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guest column: pioneering a new form of company reporting

June 2000

What makes a good social report? Roger Adams, who recently helped judge the first UK Social Reporting Awards, offers advice to CSR directors

 

Ten years ago green reporting was in its infancy. Today it is commonplace among major companies in all sectors. Similarly, social reporting is still finding its feet, but can be expected to define major aspects of corporate reporting in the future, particularly in the light of the latest proposals from the UK company law review.

Social reporting embraces an enterprise’s impacts on all its key stakeholders, including regulators, employees, suppliers, customers and local communities.

As more companies undertake social reporting, the pressure will grow on non-reporters to do the same. This pressure is already coming from certain stakeholders. Increasingly, it is likely to come from investors, who will want to see their chosen companies acting responsibly and to take social and environmental performance into account when making investment decisions.

So what are the key elements of a good social report?

Any organization’s social report must demonstrate that there is a clear commitment from senior management to the whole process. Honesty is the best policy: a well thought out social report not only shows who is responsible at a senior level for implementation of policies, but even goes so far as to include criticisms by stakeholders on where they feel the organization has fallen down. This approach can only add value to the final report.

Reporting companies should publish full results of any employee surveys they undertake, and show how customer and supplier relations are addressed.

Reporting as frankly as possible on the outcomes of stakeholder dialogue which have fed into the report is critical. It is important that there is a mechanism to ensure that interested parties have regular opportunities to comment on initiatives and projects, regardless of whether the report is printed or posted on the web.

It is also vital to include an auditor’s report that takes a critical look at the claims made by companies about their social performance. Companies can be measured using standards such as AA1000, which comprises principles designed to help organizations improve the quality of social and ethical accounting, so that they will move towards sustainable development.

The challenge is for companies to strike a balance between bright, articulate communication and glossy, over-hyped presentation. The development of a coherent, content-led but communicative report style is still some distance away. Nevertheless, considerable progress is being made by reporting companies.

Roger Adams is technical director of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.




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