Monday, November 2, 2009

Dying to work at France Telecom ?

Every so often things make you quite angry. During the past 20 months, 25 France Telecom employees have committed suicide, and several others attempted to do so. What is it about the culture in this Company that puts people under so much pressure that they take their own lives? What is the repsonsibility of a Company to ensure that the working environment and culture can not allow such an epidemic of suicides  to take place ? One suicide is an exception. 25 suicides is a corporate crime.  

The France Telecom 2008 Corporate Social Responsibility Report was published in June 2009. It's a GRI B level report verified by Deloitte who confirm that nothing came to their attention that caused them to question their belief that the report, or the parts of it that they checked, is fairly stated . (If you have a problem with that sentence, it's the same problem i have with assurance statements - why pay an assurer to write about what DIDN'T come to their attention? Hello ? A spate of suicides didnt come to their attention ? )  Anyway.... it of course interested me to see what France Telecom said about ther working environment and employee turnover  (France Telecom appear to have given a whole new meaning to the term employee turnover). At page 67, we get to the section entitled:  Acting as a responsible employer. It is 7 pages long (total report 105 pages).  Highilghts ? Information on traning and development of employees, focus on diversity and equal opportunity, especially advancement of women, 45% of French employees responded to an employee engagement survey (55% who didnt respond are apparently less engaged), and.....this is what France Telecom say about addressing psycho-social risks in the workplace :

" Aware of the increasing seriousness of work-related stress, since 2000, the Group has taken steps to prevent this type of risk. A commission dedicated to preventing stress was formed with staff  representatives. Its work has made it possible to offer concrete solutions, and improve the work environment in collaboration with the business units. In 2007, these activities were bolstered by the implementation of “Espaces d‟écoute et d‟accompagnement” (Listening and Support Spaces), which are teams that try to provide solutions, in consultation, either individually or collectively. In 2008, we implemented stress management training sessions - one “Stress management” module for employees confronted with difficult situations with customers, and one “Management practices and stress situations: guide for action” module designed for managers."

and whilst the graph of occupational accidents frequency rate shows a nice downward trend between 2004 and 2008, there is no mention of fatailities or suicides. I was also surpised to note that " France Telecom assisted in developing a guide to good practices for workplace wellbeing, published by CSR Europe.". Oops.

This is the problem we all have with CSR reports. Plenty of good news and convenient glossing over the bad news. The assurance process should pick this up, but clearly even paid independent-dependent  assurers have their limitations.  It is clear why Companies are selective about their transparency. However, what France Telecom doesn't realise is that the issues they have are transparent whether they report them or not, and that they urgently need to be addressed on a scale which is more significant than stress management workshops. Perhaps France Telecom will bite the bullet in their next report and cover this issue more fully. In the meantime, the fact that this siutation appears to be ongoing and increasing in intensity, makes me angry. Losing your life whilst doing your job should not be an option.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:


Chris Knop said...

I am currently researching for a presentation about CSR in the call centre industry.

France Telecom is one of the case studies I am using in the presentation as an example of what not to do.

I too was very surprised that they failed to mentioned the spate of suicides in their CSR report.

This critical omission obviously only adds to France Telecom's unenviable public image at present. Unfortunately however it also puts CSR in a bad light in that while the report has effectively met various reporting standards, those standards do not dictate that a company's current issues need to be reported on.

Perhaps those global standards organisations need to take this as a case study and review their own requirements on reporting criteria.

According to one particular research agency, France Telecom ranked amongst top scoring CSR reporters. See:

Examples such as France Telecom who are not "walking their talk" bring an element of hypocrisy to CSR reporting. It's time global standards organisations review their criteria.

elaine said...

Chris, thanks so much for reading, and for your response. Reporting, at least in most places, is voluntary and unregulated. The use of the GRI application level to "prove" the quality of the report is misguided. And of course the hardest things for a company to disclose is unfavourable infortation. However, what companies like France Telecom dont realise is that precisely by NOT reporting, they are reducing their credibility. By reporting, the have the opportunity to present issues in a balanced way. By not reporting, they open themselves up for public criticism anyway.
good luck with your presentation.... let me know if i can help...

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