The collective thinking of 49 sustainability reporting experts is captured in a new report from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) called Paragraph 47: international perspectives one year on, resulting from debates which took place in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, South Africa, the UAE and the UK.
The global discussions focussed on how the international community should take forward the commitments set out in paragraph 47 of the UN’s outcome document The Future We Want, which was agreed at the Rio+20 conference in 2012. The discussions are presented by ACCA from both stakeholder and national perspectives.
Rachel Jackson, ACCA’s head of sustainability, said: 'We were aware that from our conversations over the past 12 months that there were different interpretations and understanding of what paragraph 47 meant. We set out to capture those differing views from both a regional and stakeholder perspective. The findings will be valuable to governments and other key actors, one year after the declaration was signed, in driving paragraph 47 forward, thus increasing the levels of corporate sustainability reporting.'
The diverse stakeholder groups, including those from the corporate, accounting, investment, consultant and NGO perspectives, agreed on a number of issues, although there were additional views unique to the different stakeholders.
Rachel Jackson explains: 'There was common opinion that sustainability reporting will help efforts to address social and environmental issues, that government-led action was an important way to kick start the wider adoption of sustainability reporting, and that existing frameworks should be used to develop best practice, rather than being inefficient and reinventing the wheel.'
The report sets out four key questions discussed by the expert groups, and for each one highlights the level of understanding and interpretation on a per country basis. The questions discussed were:
- Is the paragraph 47 wording strong enough to change corporate behaviour?
- If paragraph 47 were to be implemented, what would be the key challenges?
- Paragraph 47 and the needs of developing countries: how can they be considered?
- Which current models and frameworks represent best practice?
Emerging from the debate around these questions, a set of recommendations has been put forward for any government intending to implement paragraph 47.
The 11 recommendations are:
- Focus on materiality
- Ensure outcomes-based and contextual reporting
- Facilitate the integration of sustainability into business strategy
- Collaborate and consult with key stakeholders
- Use stock exchanges and their influence over listed companies
- Build on existing frameworks and harmonising requirements
- Develop an awareness of local knowledge and limitations
- Adapt to national and sectoral needs
- Capacity building should be a multi-way learning and sharing process
- Include as much social as environmental transparency
- Scale down requirements for SMEs
Gordon Hewitt, ACCA’s sustainability advisor, said: 'It has been an extremely valuable exercise to capture these differing perspectives, one year on from the declaration being signed, to serve as a reminder that the implementation of paragraph 47 will need to address the myriad of stakeholder and cultural views and differences in order to succeed.'