Academic journal article Management International Review

A Socio-Economic Study of Companies through Their Training Policies: New Empirical Considerations in the French Context

Academic journal article Management International Review

A Socio-Economic Study of Companies through Their Training Policies: New Empirical Considerations in the French Context

Article excerpt


The decision-making processes in strategic management usually imply two types of variables: "Hard" variables, pertaining to economic, financial and technological aspects of a business and "Soft" variables, covering the social issues in management, notably the interaction between a company and its personnel or stakeholders, who influence or are influenced by the company's activity. The relation between these two types of variables has always posed certain problems, reflecting a broader debate between economic and social issues. What is the economy's function in society? What is the role of social issues in the economy? Numerous studies have been conducted to evaluate corporate behavior in this domain. The current economic recession in Europe has however called into question a number of established socio-economic precepts and reinforced the importance of social issues. The purpose of this study is to ascertain the relevance of the existing precepts based on the positive relationship between social and economic performance. Going one step further, we shall attempt to define the role of the social issues in management, notably by studying corporate training policies.

From Corporate Social Responsibility to Business Ethics

The attentive observer notes that current social issues (pollution, corruption, racial or sexual discrimination, consumer protection, the support of various causes, working conditions, unemployment) follow precise cycles (Winsemius/Gunthram 1992). But beyond the evolution of these socially sensitive areas, we find that the related management concepts have also changed. The notion of corporate social performance actually covers a range of different concepts that have emerged since the early sixties. The initial debate raised the question of whether companies were solely devoted to making a profit (classical economic theory) or whether their purpose should be to provide a social forum (Smith 1994, Wood 1991a). In essence, the question amounted to determining the rights and duties of business in current society. Two main streams of thought have emerged in this debate.

On the one hand, there is the free-market concept, in which a company's sole aim is to optimize its profitability. Each investment or activity must be economically profitable. Social progress and well-being are viewed as the consequences of economic progress and balanced economic activity. Society is thus viewed as a set of independent actors, each motivated by self interest, wherein the corporation is an unregulated and autonomous system.

The socially-oriented approach, on the other hand, views the company as a social force that is fully responsible for its activities and their consequences. The economy is thus seen as an organizational means developed the society to rationalize the use of its resources. In this case, the economy is merely a means of organizing the use of resources and the distribution of wealth. A company is thus responsible for using its earnings to further social development, to improve general living conditions. This point of view corresponds to an utilitarian view of labor, in which the economy serves society. The issue lies in the importance attributed to the economic function: is economic performance a goal in itself or a means to reach other objectives defined by society? In either case, the final objective is in fact identical, but the means of attaining it is radically different, implying entirely different responsibilities for business.

Corporate Social Responsibility

The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility was developed primarily during the sixties, with the notion that a company has responsibilities that go beyond economic performance. Carroll (1979) defined four decreasing levels of social responsibility: economic, legal, ethical and discretionary. Frederick (1983, p. 148) considered that "business firms have an obligation to act for the social good even if, in so doing, they may pursue activities not normally in the business domain, possibly lowering their economic profit in the process. …

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