Institutionalization of the Contents of Sustainability Assurance Services: A Comparison Between Italy and United States
- 13 Downloads
A descriptive-exploratory analysis of assurance practices is presented in this paper, by analysing the patterns of sustainability assurance reporting in two national contexts with different levels of assurance activity (Italy and the U.S.) over a period of 11 years (2003/2013). The study is based on theoretical insights drawn from institutional sociology and normativity production. It is framed both in the Italian situation, where assurance statements consistently include a narrow set of formal and procedural communications, and in an unsettled situation in the U.S., where assurance activity is more incipient, but where experimentation in substantial assurance disclosure practices has more room to develop. Its main implication is that the diffusion of sustainability assurance and the creation of sustainability assurance disclosure norms are not without its cost: information quality does not increase with patterned practice. The results also point towards the noteworthy role of specific professionals in the earlier and later stages of assurance practice norms. They reveal a significant influence of non-Big4 firms (mainly certification bodies and consulting and engineering firms) in the diffusion of sustainability assurance disclosure norms. In contrast, the Big4 firms appear to be positively associated with the narrowing down of the assurance focus to a selected subset of this activity in later stages of the development of the assurance norm. In this regard, this study provides insight into the circumstantial—but relevant—carrier role of the Big4 firms in determining what “assurance” means.
KeywordsSustainability assurance content Disclosure practices Assurance patterns Normativity Italy United States
This study was funded by Secretaría de Estado de Investigación, Desarrollo e Innovación (Grant Number ECO2015-65782-P) and Consejería de Educación, Junta de Castilla y León (Grant Number BU058P17).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
- ACCA. (2004). ACCA UK awards for sustainability reporting: Report of the judges. ACCA. http://www.accaglobal.com/sustainability.
- AccountAbility. (2003). AA1000AS Assurance Standard. http://www.coc-runder-tisch.de/inhalte/texte_grundlagen/Assurance_Standard.pdf.
- Accountability. (2008). AA1000AS Assurance Standard. London: Accountability. https://www.accountability.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/AA1000AS_italian.pdf.
- Albareda, L., Tencati, A., Lozano, J. M., & Perrini, F. (2006). The government’s role in promoting corporate responsibility: A comparative analysis of Italy and UK from the relational state perspective. Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society, 6(4), 386–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Berg, B., & Lune., H. (2012). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences (8th ed.). Harlow: Pearson.Google Scholar
- CorporateRegister. (2008). Assurance view: The CSR Assurance Statement Report. CorporateRegister.com, London. https://www.corporateregister.com/pdf/AssureView.pdf.
- CorporateRegister. (2013). CRPerspectives 2013, CorporateRegister.com. London. https://3blmedia.com/News/CSR/CorporateRegistercoms-Survey-CR-Perspectives-2013.
- European Commission. (2003). Recommendation 2003/361/EC as regards size criteria defined for the SME. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32003H0361.
- IAASB. (2003). International Standard on Assurance Engagements 3000—Assurance engagements other than audits or reviews of historical information. New York:International Federation of Accountants (IFAC).Google Scholar
- Jones, M. J., & Shoemaker, P. A. (1994). Accounting narratives: A review of empirical studies of content and readability. Journal of Accounting Literature, 13(1), 142–184.Google Scholar
- Kolk, A., & Perego, P. (2010). Determinants of the adoption of sustainability assurance statements: An international investigation. Business Strategy and the Environment, 19(3), 182–198.Google Scholar
- KPMG. (2011). KPMG International survey of corporate responsibility reporting 2011. Amsterdam: KPMG International. http://www.econsense.de/sites/all/files/Survey-corporate-responsibility-reporting-2011.pdf.
- KPMG. (2013). KPMG International survey of corporate responsibility reporting 2013. Amsterdam: KPMG International. https://assets.kpmg.com/content/dam/kpmg/pdf/2015/08/kpmg-survey-of-corporate-responsibility-reporting-2013.pdf.
- KPMG (2015). KPMG International survey of corporate responsibility reporting 2013. Amsterdam: KPMG International. https://home.kpmg.com/content/dam/kpmg/pdf/2015/12/KPMG-survey-of-CR-reporting-2015.pdf.
- Perego, P. (2009). Causes and consequences of choosing different assurance providers: An international study of sustainability reporting. International Journal of Management, 26(3), 412–425.Google Scholar
- Sahlin-Andersson, K., & Engwall, L. (2002). Carriers, flows, and sources of management knowledge. In K. Sahlin-Andersson & L. Engwall (Eds.), The expansion of management knowledge. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Scheneider, B. A. (2013). Assurance opportunities broaden. Journal of Accountancy, 215(5), 32–36.Google Scholar
- Scott, W. R. (2008). Institutions and organizations: Ideas and interests. London: Sage.Google Scholar
- Zadek, S., Raynard, P., Forstater, M., & Oelschlaegel, J. (2004). The future of sustainability assurance. ACCA Research Report No. 86. London: Certified Accountants Educational Trust. http://www.comunicarseweb.com.ar/sites/default/files/biblioteca/pdf/1301088199_FOSA_-_Full_Report.pdf.
- Zhou, S., Simnett, R., & Green, W. J. (2016). Assuring a new market: The interplay between country-level and company-level factors on the demand for greenhouse gas (GHG) information assurance and the choice of assurance provider. Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory, 35(3), 141–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar