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An experiment in corporate social responsibility: the Familistère

Jean-​​Baptiste André Godin was born in France in 1817, to a modest family of craftsmen. He built up a successful business manufacturing cast-​​iron stoves, but was deeply affected by the working class poverty he witnessed in the wake of the first industrial revolution. He was influenced by the « utopian socialism » of the French philosopher Charles Fourier.

Godin was convinced that one of the best ways to reduce suffering in society was to improve housing, so in 1859 he began building the Familistère (family lodging) next to his factory in Guise (Aisne). It was completed 25 years later, and provided accommodation for 300 families, along with services such as a library, crèche, school and theatre. Godin gradually transferred ownership of the Familistère to his workers, turning it into an early form of production cooperative.

This unique social experiment survived until 1968.

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