What does SSE (Social and Solidarity Economy) mean for procurement departments?

Economie Sociale et Solidaire
August 19th, 2021
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For several decades, Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) has been well and truly booming. This concept responds to current economic, social, ecological and democratic challenges. Placing people at the centre of how it works, this economic model is paving the way for socially responsible procurement within organisations.

In this post, you will find the answers to all of your questions about Social and Solidarity Economy:

What does SSE mean?

While the term "Économie Sociale et Solidaire" (Social and Solidarity Economy) is particularly widespread in French-speaking countries, other synonyms such as social economy or social enterprises are more commonly used in other countries.

It's also worth noting that there is no one definition shared by all member states of the European Union; instead, there are various approaches to Social and Solidarity Economy. After taking an interest in SSE through the statuses of its stakeholders (associations, foundations, mutual societies and cooperatives), the European Union has opted for a more comprehensive approach, based on their social purpose. SSE companies aim to create sustainable jobs, develop social cohesion and meet the socio-economic needs of their regions (ageing population, access to employment or housing, unemployment etc.).

The European Commission therefore defines a social enterprise as a business: "whose main objective is to have a social impact rather than make a profit for their owners or shareholders. It operates by providing goods and services for the market in an entrepreneurial and innovative fashion and uses its profits primarily to achieve social objectives. It is managed in an open and responsible manner and, in particular, involves employees, consumers and stakeholders affected by its commercial activities[1]".

What is the state of play in Europe?

To date, Social and Solidarity Economy accounts for 10% of European GDP and involves more than 11 million workers, or 4.5% of the workforce in the European Union. SSE companies are multiplying, which is good news given their resilience in a crisis. In fact, over the last decade, the SSE sector recorded employment growth of nearly 23%, compared to just 7% for the traditional sector.

The aim of these social enterprises echoes the values of the European social model and the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. In this way, Social and Solidarity Economy meets the European objectives for social innovation, job creation, environmental transition and the fight against poverty.

How can SSE be integrated into procurement practices?

To promote Social and Solidarity Economy, procurement departments have several available levers, ranging from one-off purchases to long-term partnerships.

Dividing contracts into lots

Procurement departments can divide their contracts into different lots, making it easier for SSE companies to access public and private calls for tender, as these contracts may be too large for SSE enterprises—which are often Very Small Businesses (VSB) or Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs)—to fulfil. In France, dividing contracts into lots is a legal obligation for public contracts. However, this good practice can be extended to the private sector and to other countries.

Social inclusion clauses

In order to encourage suppliers to develop inclusive actions, organisations can incorporate social inclusion clauses into their contracts. This can take the form of selection criteria or contract fulfilment conditions. In concrete terms, this means that the selected supplier will have to reserve a certain volume of hours for people from disadvantaged groups. They can recruit these people directly or sub-contract them from companies specialising in this field.

Purchasing goods or services

To encourage socially responsible purchases, procurement departments can also buy goods or services from Social and Solidarity Economy companies. To test out the relationship with these suppliers, organisations often start with a "test" contract, with lower amounts or smaller regions.

By promoting Social and Solidarity Economy, procurement departments can contribute to the Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. By looking at procurement from a social perspective, organisations become participants in a sustainable, people-centred, positive economy!