Enhancing the Role and Effectiveness of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Reports: The Missing Element of Content Verification and Integrity Assurance

Abstract

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting by large corporations has witnessed phenomenal growth over the last two decades. The voluntary nature of these disclosures, however, has led to inconsistencies in reporting formats, treatment, and inclusion of various contextual elements, and a lack of robust measures pertaining to the quality and accuracy of the reports’ content. Efforts to address these drawbacks such as Global Reporting Initiative and ISO 26000 have proven unsatisfactory due to their primary emphasis on process for creating CSR reports without similar attention on measurement criteria to ensure robust implementation, or verify accuracy of information. This paper attempts to fill this gap in the literature. It uses a new framework—called the CSR-Sustainability Monitor®—of analyzing and evaluating the contents of CSR reports in a manner that allows for a single report to be compared with any other single group, and groups of reports based on industry, country-of-origin, and similar other groupings. Using data from the CSR reports of 614 large corporations worldwide, this study analyzes the character and scope of integrity assurance contained in these CSR reports. The analysis is further extended to explore some external factors that would explain variations in the assurance decision and the quality of integrity assurance in these reports.

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Change history

  • 21 October 2016

    An erratum to this article has been published.

Notes

  1. 1.

    For example, Norway’s regulation on sustainability reporting came into force on June 1, 2014 (GRI 2013). In April 2014, “The European Parliament adopted the directive on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large companies and groups” (European Commission 2014). Once this proposal is adopted by the Council and published in the Official Journal of the European Union, it will become law, which is expected to happen after summer 2014 (Federation of European Accountants 2014).

  2. 2.

    For example, among the S&P 500 companies, about 72 % had published some form of CSR report in 2013, up from 52 % in 2012 (Governance & Accountability Institute 2014).

  3. 3.

    Appendices 3, 4, 5 in Tables 15, 16 provide description of the CSR-S Monitor’s analytical framework, research methodology, and their applications to CSR reports. See the CSR-S Monitor website for further details, www.csrsmonitor.org.

  4. 4.

    The analysis in the CSR-S Monitor extends beyond what is in the assurance statements as a remarkable portion of reports claim to have been assured and provide specific details about the outcomes of this process without including the assurance statement they refer to (Weissman Center for International Business 2014).

  5. 5.

    See Simnett et al. (2009) and Weissman Center for International Business (2014) for a background discussion on low assurance rates in the US.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for this project was provided by the Weissman Center for International Business, and is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to S. Prakash Sethi.

Additional information

An erratum to this article is available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3359-4.

Appendices

Appendix 1

See Table 13.

Table 13 Disaggregate statistics per country

Appendix 2

See Table 14.

Table 14 Coding framework for the CSR assurance content analysis

Appendix 3: Scope of Coverage: A Brief Description of Analytical Framework

The CSR-S Monitor scores CSR reports published in the year 2012 by the world’s largest corporations. The companies are selected from the Fortune 250 US, Fortune 250 Global indices along with those included in the previous edition of the CSR-S Monitor. The 2014 sample of companies comprises world’s 614 largest companies, spanning 20 industry sectors and 43 countries.

Using a content analysis-based framework, the CSR-S Monitor assesses the breadth and depth of the information in these CSR reports. The scoring framework reflects the quality and credibility of the information in CSR reports based on a set of the 11 most common areas of sustainability covered in these reports including environmental management, stakeholder engagement, supply chain management, human right, and bribery and corruption. The number and definition of various contextual elements, and their relative weight, were determined based on the information contained in large cross section of CSR reports. The significance of this approach rests on the primary object of the CSR monitor, i.e., to compare and analyze the information that is currently contained in the CSR reports, and not what should be contained in these reports and prescribed by someone other than the corporations preparing these reports.

The CSR-S Monitor provides a total score for the CSR report as well as scores for each of the 11 contextual elements. The scores on each contextual element are added up to achieve an overall quality score for each report, ranging from 0 to 100 with a higher score indicating higher quality reporting. Table 1 shows the list of individual elements and their respective weights.

The overall score as well as the scores on each contextual element reflects the comprehensiveness (scale) and level of specificity (scope) of information disclosed in a company’s CSR report. The scoring methodology takes into account variations in CSR practices and related disclosures across a variety of countries and regions, industry sectors, and legal and regulatory systems. This allows for objective comparisons among reports and emerging trends in reporting.

The CSR-S Monitor provides the user with the ability to compare any of the companies analyzed in the report. Some industries have more regulation or public scrutiny, creating an environment that encourages companies to write more complete reports. Similarly, some countries require more specificity as to what a company must include in its CSR report. Therefore, we present the CSR-S Monitor scores by country and region. Each report is analyzed by multiple analysts and their findings are randomly examined by experienced supervisors to ensure the scoring framework is objectively and consistency applied.

Appendix 4

See Table 15.

Table 15 Definitions of contextual elements and list of illustrative topics

Appendix 5

See Table 16.

Table 16 Sample scoring criteria—environment

Appendix 6

See Table 17.

Table 17 Quality of CSR assurance per country

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Sethi, S.P., Martell, T.F. & Demir, M. Enhancing the Role and Effectiveness of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Reports: The Missing Element of Content Verification and Integrity Assurance. J Bus Ethics 144, 59–82 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2862-3

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Keywords

  • CSR reports
  • CSR-S Monitor
  • Sustainability reporting
  • Integrity assurance
  • Analytical and scoring frameworks
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Corporate reputation, transparency, public trust, credibility