NGOs to get their own reporting requirementsApril 2010
Non-governmental organizations will shortly be given their own version of the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines on sustainability reporting.
A draft NGO supplement to the guidelines was released last month, and subject to further testing should be finalized by mid-2010.
While a small number of NGOs already use the main guidelines, the GRI says the supplement is necessary ‘because non-profits have unique needs for sustainability reporting, above and beyond those addressed by the existing guidelines’.
But the supplement is also a response to a growing clamour for NGOs to adopt the same CSR and reporting standards they often demand of businesses.
The GRI concedes there is ‘an increasing demand for greater accountability from non-profit organizations’, partly because NGOs can ‘significantly influence public policy development on an international, national as well as on a local level’.
The supplement, which is designed to be applicable to all sizes of organization, says NGOs should use their sustainability reports to show how they design, implement, and evaluate their policies and programmes.
This means producing indicators that demonstrate the extent to which affected stakeholders have an input into such policies – and whether there are mechanisms for ‘corrective adjustment of advocacy positions’ if necessary.
It also says NGO sustainability reports should show:
how the organization ensures that its public criticisms are ‘fair and accurate’
that marketing communications conform to ‘generally accepted ethical or cultural standards’
how funding is used for the purpose intended by donors
the frequency with which it assesses its sustainability performance.
The supplement additionally advises NGOs to report on matters such as diversity, labour relations, environmental impacts, internal whistleblowing arrangements, training, and health and safety. And it recommends reporting on corporate governance matters such as whether the body’s chair is also an executive officer.
The 47-page document has been devised by a cross-sector GRI working group which began its deliberations in February 2008 and took soundings from interested parties. Among organizations represented on the group were Amnesty, Greenpeace, Novartis, Oxfam, Unilever, and the World Bank.
Of the 1361 sustainability reports listed by the GRI as having been published in 2009, only 27 are classified as being from non-profits, including Oxfam. However, there are questions about the veracity of the GRI’s classifications: the list includes, for instance, an Australian firm of lawyers and the US Postal Service.
Mehrdad Nazari, a senior CSR advisor at the US-based Prizma consultancy, said urgent work was needed to increase the accountability of non-profits. ‘The lack of reporting by NGOs is a sorry chapter,’ he said. ‘It seems that some of them continue to like to tell others what, how and why to do things – but they don’t like to submit themselves to any rigorous standards.’
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