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firms offered help with questionnaire fatigue

October 2002

A novel way of tackling questionnaire fatigue has been developed by an Australian social and environmental investment research body.

The Sustainability Reporter web site, launched last month, invites Australia’s 300 largest listed companies to submit responses to a series of questions about their social and environmental performance. It then posts the replies on a web site.

The service will be free to site visitors and to companies, which will be able to update their information as required.

The Melbourne-based Sustainable Investment Research Institute, which has developed the service, is holding a series of national workshops this month to explain the idea to companies.

Among other things, companies are asked to outline briefly their vision and strategy on sustainable development, whether and how they use standards and guidelines such as AA1000, the Global Reporting Initiative and Social Accountability 8000, the extent of internal and external auditing, supply chain policies, reporting procedures, and the use of performance indicators. They are also asked to reveal their CSR staff complement and budget.

Terence Jeyaretnam, head of the institute, said the site would ‘help reduce the increase in workload that many companies are experiencing in meeting requests for information on social responsibility initiatives.’

He added: ‘The variety and volume of requests associated with this type of reporting is creating confusion and placing difficult demands on time and resources within companies.’

However, he emphasized it was not a ‘cure all’, but rather ‘a way to alleviate some of the burden of requests for social and environmental disclosure’.

Work on the site began in 2001 and has been supported by several large Australian companies, financial institutions and governmental and non-governmental bodies. An advisory committee has also been formed.

There are plans to cover New Zealand and Asian stock markets at a later date, in conjunction with the Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia.

Questionnaire fatigue has hit companies in other parts of the world as demand for information on corporate social responsibility policies grows.

Earlier this year, Nestle revealed it was so fed up with receiving questionnaires on its ethical performance that it might decline to complete them all (EP3, issue 9).

There are also concerns that many questionnaires are poorly framed. Nicky Amos, head of business ethics at Body Shop International, told this year’s Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies conference in Washington DC: ‘There’s a lot of naivety in some of the questions being posed. They say things like “tick this box to confirm you have no child labour in your supply chain”. I am concerned about what they are going to do with this information.’




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