Let's be frank!

During the Mad Cow crisis in the early 1990s, the French government decided to give French beef a reassuring “VBF” label (Viande Bovine Française) in view of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy epizootic affecting British cows. Certifying the origins and traceability of rump- steaks and other beef ribs was meant to both inform French consumers and guarantee the quality of their meal.

Today, these same consumers find themselves encouraged not only to eat, but also to buy all products bought in France. This message has gone down well since according to a survey by the Crédoc (1) in 2011, two-thirds of the French population are prepared to pay more for a national product. Paradoxically, this is apparently not the case of companies, since, according to agency    AgileBuyer (2), only 19% of French companies have set themselves targets to buy products made in France. Worse still, the reasons given by these French companies for not stocking up with their compatriots are harsh: “too small, financially fragile, socially rigid, uncompetitive, a lack of solidarity between each other etc”.

Admittedly, there is no doubt that the stripy sailor smock made by Armor Lux (company founded in 1938 by Swiss-German, Walter Hubacher, a global citizen before his time) sported so proudly by the French Minister of Productive Recovery comes from Quimper in Brittany. However, it is more difficult to qualify the origins of products that a “citizen” consumer or a “patriotic” company should favour in order to underpin economic activity in their country.

While we all know that the TOYOTA plant in Valenciennes produces Yaris cars for the European market, do we know for example that the Japanese carmarker has just invested in capacity at the plant to produce 25,000 Yaris’ destined for the US, Canadian and Puerto Rican markets? The height of absurdity, TOYOTA is currently the first and only generalist carmaker to have received the “Origine France Garantie” label guaranteeing its French origins (3), a stamp, which is not currently sported by any RENAULT or PSA vehicle.

Another French region, another example: we are very proud that the Saint-Nazare shipyards have obtained a €1bn order for a giant 361m long ship from Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, representing more than 10m hours of work. Should we remind ourselves that the STX Europe shipbuilding group is a subsidiary of a Korean group, originating therefore from the same country as HYUNDAI which was accused of social dumping last September?

Clearly the “nationality” of a company or a product is today more of a media concept than a  genuinely economic one. Globalisation is a reality in business life that there is no point fighting against. A jewel in the French economy such as L’OREAL (69,000 staff in 130 countries in all five continents) no longer even communicates the portion of its headcount or turnover derived from France… Beyond this globalisation, the development of the digital economy has stepped up this wiping out of terrorities to the benefit of individuality. This accelerating trend is as Michel Serres (4) puts it ” a revolution, the extent of which humanity has only witnessed twice before”.

This revolution, which is not without consequences for our western economies, still scares the political workd and all those who can only see the loss of their privileges and advantages in it. While this is an understandable reflex it is quite damaging in the short term. Our governments have everything to gain in understanding and accepting that tomorrow’s wealth is being created in all corners of the world, in Asia and Africa with citizen consumers who have the digital world at their disposal.

Let’s be frank and not Franco-French, the future of what’s “made in France” is profoundly mixed!

avec la complicité d’Olivier de BERRANGER

(1) www.credoc.fr/pdf/4p/239.pdf
(2) Les Echos Business – 03/01/2013
(3) La Tribune de l’Auto – 03/09/2012
(4) Journal du dimanche – 30/12/2012