Corporate reporting needs to be brought into the 21st century by integrating material sustainability information into corporate reports, asserts ACCA today ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which will take place in Rio, Brazil in mid June 2012.
To influence policy makers and create debate prior to the Rio+20 summit, ACCA has published a paper which looks at possible changes to a key aspect of the discussions – paragraph 41 – which is concerned with the integration of material sustainability information into the corporate reports of listed and large private companies.
Rachel Jackson, head of sustainability at ACCA says: 'To make a difference, Rio+20 needs to have goals that are achievable and actionable – one of those goals should focus on the need for a global approach to sustainability reporting. Long term value is enhanced by companies embedding sustainability into their business strategy and key processes, rather than treating sustainability information as a mere add on activity. The long term viability of companies has to be at the heart of corporate decision making.
'An effective and workable paragraph 41 would emphasise the relevance of sustainability to investors and business. It would spread good practice, and emphasise the relevance of sustainability to investors and businesses. Rio+20 should be aiming for this goal – not just for companies and investors, but for the planet itself.'
ACCA believes that:
- paragraph 41 should lead to a commitment by UN Member States to develop mechanisms for sustainability reporting at a national level; while such national reporting would need to meet global standards, flexibility in the mechanisms applied to meet the standards would allow for country-specific solutions
- paragraph 41 should obligate companies to report on a ‘comply-or-explain’ basis; this requirement would provide appropriate flexibility and would stimulate substantive board discussions on risks and opportunities arising from sustainable development.
Rachel Jackson adds: 'There is a ground swell of opinion on this issue, led most recently by Aviva Investors through a coalition of investors, NGOs and UN agencies, as well as ACCA. This coalition recently called for a commitment from UN Member States to work on an international agreement requiring companies to integrate sustainability issues in their annual report and accounts, on a report or explain basis. The coalition believes this would be a realistic, tangible and meaningful success.
'However, whatever the policy outcome at Rio+20, there will be a need for rigorous and credible arrangements to map out and assess the fulfilment of any undertaking, whether voluntary or binding. This is where accountants come in – the profession provides the much needed transparency, measurement and comparability required for common international reporting.'
ACCA’s paper includes a series of expert views on this issue from our Global Forum for Sustainability members and other voices from the accountancy profession; the Forum was established in 2011 to bring together leading thinking on sustainability and the role of accountants.
Vincent Neate, Head of Climate Change and Sustainability at KPMG says that 'as global businesses heads to Rio for the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit, there are reasons to be hopeful, but also some harsh criticism to be faced. Leading businesses know the importance of sustainability and responsibility but we do need to accelerate their adoption as corporate values. The question of what role transparency should play in that acceleration is a vital one.'
Victor Anderson, Senior Policy Officer at WWF UK, adds: 'The most important fact about Rio is likely to turn out to be that it is not the end of the process. It is increasingly clear that it has acted as a major catalyst for debates, campaigns, and detailed work, and that all this will continue for many years after Rio.'
ACCA’s policy paper was written whilst the text on corporate sustainability reporting was still in its former placing of paragraph 24 of the Rio+20 Outcome Document.
- Read the 'Making a Difference at Rio +20' report in the 'Related Documents' section at the bottom of the article, and the 'CSRC Rio +20' letter in the 'Related Links' section to the left of this article.