Olivia Grégoire, deputy LREM
“Bruno Le Maire’s request to all the big companies that would have benefited from state aid against the coronavirus crisis not to pay dividends was variably welcomed: considered symbolic or demagogic, this question is in reality central for Respond to a crisis where it is not so much the business models that need to change as the business model itself.
In previous crises, this difficult change of perspective has always been overshadowed by the easy search for scapegoats. In 2008, their names were subprimes, Lehman Brothers or SPV. Politicians were strongly urged to clean up and change the rules of the game, particularly in terms of prudential supervision and capital ratios. But today, the economic crisis is unique in that it has no economic origin.
To change the rules of the game, you will have to think about changing the players. The necessary rebalancing of liberalism goes through its refocusing on the enterprise, the enterprise as a social, territorial and societal actor. A company that reasons over the long term by associating its employees with its profits and its decisions, by locating its supplies and its production according to criteria of sustainability as well as profitability, by making the safety and health of its collaborators a value as precious as their training … It is a sharing enterprise: that of the value created, the value chain and its values. It is the business of the 21st century, not because it embodies this century but because it is the only one capable of surviving it.
The coming weeks will quickly distinguish between companies that will consider the current crisis as a first warning and those that will see it as a simple accident. This has already started: on the one hand, certain large groups which are putting pressure on their small service providers to free up cash by lengthening their payment periods but are unable to reduce the salaries of their managers; on the other, those who advance payments of certain orders or suspend the payment of dividends.
It is up to politicians to accelerate and accentuate this responsibility already underway within companies. Virtuous companies will have to be rewarded, not only by oral congratulations, but by accounting incentives. Faced with the pandemic, the physical health of workers as well as the financial health of suppliers are thus essential assets which must appear in the company’s balance sheet as well as working capital. At a time when the European Union is committed to developing extra-financial ratings, it is high time to transform performance into rewards.
This could result in the arrowing of certain financings, by making in particular so that the engaged companies are less dependent on the upheavals of the Stock Exchange; or by privileged access to public markets, or even to the market altogether. Conversely, it is legitimate to require a large company that would empty its cash to distribute dividends the reimbursement of aid it would have claimed from the State to pay its employees.
Common sense calls today for a postponement of general meetings and a rebalancing of the sharing of value, from shareholders to employees. Let us hope, however, that it is not the State but the companies themselves that take the decision to banish such risky behavior that threatens their image as much as their viability. Because the solidarity of society vis-à-vis companies must have as a corollary the solidarity of companies vis-à-vis society. “