Belgium had a population of 10.840.000 in 2011, with an unemployment rate of 7,1% in the same period. In 1999, the Federal Government decided to intensify its support to the social economy sector, thus delegating this responsibility to a Federal Minister. In Federal Belgium, the arrangements for this support of the social economy sector primarily started by consulting the Regions and Communities, leading then to the signing of a Social Economy Cooperation Agreement in 2000.
Furthermore, this agreement contributed to the exchange of views and ideas between the Regions, so that the social economy benefited from additional regional momentum. The coordination role played by the Minister for the Social Economy allows effective cooperation between the competent Federal, Regional and Community authorities in terms of social economy and employment. In general, the objective of the policy by the Secretary of State for Social Economy is therefore reflected in the strengthening and broadening of two spheres of action.
On the one hand, ensuring the values of the social economy are developed with an ever greater number of organisations, initiatives and other projects and, on the other hand, spreading the values sought as part of socially responsible business practice with an ever increasing number of people from the business community. This solid base is still the core of the Belgian framework for the development of social economy.
Focus on Flanders
Flanders is the northern region of Belgium and in 2010 had a population of 6.2 million, which represented around 57% of the country’s total population. It had an unemployment rate of 4,3% in 2011. The main vulnerable groups, with regard to employment, in Flanders are disabled people, migrants, older workers and people living in poverty. In the same year, the social economy accounted for approximately 25000 jobs in Flanders, representing 0.9% of all people employed.
The local social economy is mainly represented by organizations and initiatives which deal with the creation and retention of jobs, wherever possible within the social economy, and to encourage their transition into the mainstream economy. These businesses are characterized by a focus on sustainable development, environmentally-friendly products and production processes, the priority of labor over capital with respect to revenue sharing, democratic decision-making processes, maximum transparency as regards the overall policy pursued, company finances and internal and external relationships.
Moreover these enterprises pay particular attention to the quality of the relationships, both with external and internal ones, and social integration through networking and collaboration with local community and non-governmental organizations.
In general, the social economy in Flanders is focused on three pillars: work integration; the provision of societal services and the provision of support to other SEOs. The most frequently represented sector of operation are environmental services, including recycling, gardening and waste treatment. The principal source of incomes for social enterprises in Flanders are subsidies, accounting for 44,3%, and profits from sales of goods and services with a 38,1% of the total.
Public contracts and individual donations account only for around 14%, with the latter accounting only for a 2%. As regards to the job quality in the sector, the problem most felt as important is the security of employment. This is attributed to organizations’ financial dependency on subsidies and relative uncertainty on their awarding or renewal.