Toby Johnson
21 January 2015 – a database for socially responsible public procurement

There are nearly 4,000 work integration social enterprises (WISEs) of various types in France, which both produce goods and services themselves, and provide staff for other enterprises. They earn the majority of their revenues from sales, but state subsidies are also available to those that register officially. However public support is being reduced, and so increasing sales is a priority.

In parallel, the French government promotes socially responsible public procurement, in order to bring the power of public and private purchasing to bear on the problem of social integration. It encourages public authorities to include social clauses in their procurement contracts, so as to set a good example.

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It wished to make it easier for public procurement officials to find social enterprises which might bid for contracts, and so in 2008 four government bodies asked AVISE (, the national promotional organisation for social enterprises, to establish a website to do this.

The website was thus created to provide a national directory of WISEs. The directory contains basic listings for some 4,800 structures d’insertion par l’activité économique (SIAE), and the social enterprises can add more detailed entries themselves.

The site serves both public and private purchasers by providing guidance on how to go about socially responsible public procurement, and publicises good practices. It publishes a monthly electronic newsletter which reaches 2,500 subscribers. For WISEs, the website fulfils a networking function by publishing editorial content from the federal bodies in the sector and stimulating skills development.

In the 2011-13 period AVISE issued a call for proposals for ESF support to encourage the development of socially responsible procurement at a regional level, which has led to the creation or consolidation of 11 regional websites which coordinate their actions by organising biannual workshops. The national website was also extended to include socially responsible private enterprises.

Lessons of public procurement databases

  • In a climate of decreasing public subsidy, work integration social enterprises need to become more professional in marketing and delivering their services, and to be more visible to potential customers;
  • The evidence shows that a website providing an online directory of work integration social enterprises, together with guidance on how to include social clauses in procurement tenders, can increase both the number of social clauses and the share of procurement going to WISEs. Owing largely to changes in practice at local level, the share of public contracts valued at over €90,000 which include a social clause quadrupled from 1.5% in 2008 to 6.1% in 2013;
  • The scale of the website should suit the target market: national websites work well for large-scale purchasing organisations, while regional sites are better at engaging regional stakeholders;
  • Financial sustainability can be assisted by developing services for public and private purchases, such as training, tools and tailored advice;
  • Such websites work best where social enterprises are defined by law, where they have the maturity to take on larger contracts, and where legislation encouraging socially responsible public procurement boosts demand;
  • A procurement website can be a basis for peer networking among social enterprises.