Sodexo draws on 1960s-born 'double mission' to trial social value accounting

The $11bn French food services and facilities management giant had a “defined purpose” long before it was trendy – but efforts to capture evidence of social value today remain a work in progress.

It is fashionable in 2021 for corporate bosses to claim a bigger purpose than turning a profit – but the chair of one of the world’s biggest private sector employers says positive impact has been “central” to its mission since its creation in the 1960s.

Sophie Bellon, chair of the France-headquartered food services and facilities management firm Sodexo, said her father Pierre Bellon established the company “with a double mission” –  to improve the quality of life of customers and employees, while contributing to economic, social and environmental development in its areas of operation. 

“We had defined a purpose for Sodexo, at a time when the notion probably did not even exist in business,” said Bellon (pictured above), who was speaking at last week’s UK National Social Value Conference.

We had defined a purpose for Sodexo, at a time when the notion probably did not even exist in business

Long before America’s most influential CEOs made stakeholder consideration mainstream with their Business Roundtable statement of 2019, Pierre Bellon had defined the company as “the community of clients, consumers, employees and shareholders”, the firm’s chair said.

“He understood that organic growth was the only way to reconcile the contrary expectations of all those stakeholders in the long run, which is central to the long-term success.”

Bellon said her own “deeply-rooted conviction” was that the company’s growth relied on “an approach in which generated wealth simultaneously benefits all our stakeholders and the ecosystem.”

Sodexo has 420,000 employees and operates in 64 countries, serving 100m consumers daily. In 2020, it had a market capitalisation of $11.6bn.

Among the firm’s stakeholder initiatives are its supplier inclusion programme: 25% of the global purchases were with small or local businesses, with a focus on those owned by women, people with disabilities or underrepresented groups. The company also created a social innovation department two years ago to set up profitable businesses with local partners that “create value” for local communities.



Social Value Act: 'definitely a milestone'

Bellon also said measurement of social value was crucial for assessing progress, describing the UK’s Social Value Act – which requires all central government departments to explicitly evaluate social value when procuring services – as “definitely a milestone”. 

“All tenders, whether public or private, should be about so much more than just the price. Social innovation must be an important selection criterion.”

Also speaking at the National Social Value Conference, Sean Haley, chair of Sodexo UK & Ireland, said Covid-19 had turned social value from a discussion topic into something much more concrete.

All tenders, whether public or private, should be about so much more than just the price

“It’s no longer a debate. It’s no longer a choice, it's non-negotiable, it has to be done. We have to find ways to have social value embedded in everything we do.”

He added: “I think society increasingly is looking to business to drive this change. We must be purpose-led, we must take ownership of that.”

Haley said his company was “trialling social value accounting” but that efforts to capture evidence of social value were a “work in progress”.

“It’s a big journey for everybody, because at the moment it is too complicated. But as industry it’s one of our biggest challenges… we need to simplify this and we need to find the right balance.”

The National Social Value Conference was hosted by Social Value Portal. Find out more and catch up on the discussions here.

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