An Evaluation of the Quality of Corporate Social Responsibility Reports by Some of the World’s Largest Financial Institutions


This study investigates the variations in the quality and comprehensiveness of 104 corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports published by the world’s largest financial institutions in 2012. Using a novel measure of CSR report quality, we examine the impact of certain national, legal, and firm-level factors that might explain differences in the overall quality and extent of coverage of various issues in these reports. Our findings show that legal factors and CSR environment in a firm’s country of headquarters play an important role in firms’ CSR reporting quality. Common law countries exhibit systematically higher overall CSR reporting quality than code law countries. Countries with higher CSR standards, policies, and regulations in place also produce significantly higher quality CSR reports. Firm size, on the other hand, has no major impact on the overall quality of CSR reports. In further analysis of the individual aspects of CSR disclosures, namely environment, philanthropy, bribery and corruption, and integrity assurance, we document that larger firms report at a higher quality on philanthropy and bribery and corruption. Bribery and corruption is reported at a higher quality in countries with common law tradition, high-quality legal regimes, and high CSR standards and regulations in place. We also observe higher quality integrity assurance in common law countries. CSR-minded countries and countries with low-quality legal environment also report on philanthropy at a higher quality. Finally, we offer guidelines for companies toward improving the quality of their reports, and suggestions for scholars and researchers for further avenues of research.

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  1. 1.

    Governance, and Accountability Institute (2014).

  2. 2.

    KPMG, Center for Corporate Governance in Africa, Global Reporting Initiative and United Nations Environment Programme (2013).

  3. 3.

  4. 4.

    For Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), please see Global Reporting Initiative (2014).

  5. 5.

    For ISO 26000, please see Moratis, L. and Cochius, T. (2011); Craig N. Murphy and JoAnne Yates (2009); International Standards organization (2010).

  6. 6.

    Appendices 1, 2 and 3 provide description of the CSR-S Monitor’s analytical framework, research methodology, and its applications to CSR reports. They also include case examples; three companies with low, medium, and high quality scores.

  7. 7.

    See Appendices 1–3 and for a more detailed description of the methodology and sample list of companies.

  8. 8.

    AccountAbility (2005).

  9. 9.

  10. 10.

  11. 11.

    Current members of the Group are Banco Santander, Bank of Tokyo, Mitsubishi UFJ, Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, J.P. Morgan Chase, SociétéGénerale, and UBS.


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

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to S. Prakash Sethi.

Additional information

Research Assistants: Alex Schwarz, Danhua Zhang, Shivani Trehan


Appendix 1: 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 the world’s 614 largest companies, spanning 20 industry sectors and 43 countries. In our analysis, we include 104 financial institutions from around the world that have published CSR reports.

Using a content analysis-based framework, the CSR-S Monitor assesses the breadth and depth of information in these CSR reports. The scoring framework reflects the quality and credibility of 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 from 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 6 shows the list of individual elements and their respective weights.

Table 6 Individual component of the CSR-S Monitor and the irrespective 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 that the scoring framework is objectively and consistently applied.

Appendix 2: Definitions of Contextual Elements and List of Illustrative Topics

Contextual element Definition Illustrative sub-elements
Chair/executive message The chair/executive message contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company in the introductory statement of their CSR report about their management commitment and effectiveness across all CSR subjects, in terms of current achievements and future targets Message signatory
CSR key topics
Current achievements
Future targets
Environment The environment contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and effectiveness regarding environmental issues such as waste management, climate change, and biodiversity, as well as disclosure about product or process innovation opportunities, reducing the firm’s environmental impact through their supply chain, and any environmental accidents Waste management
Climate change
Water management
Environmental opportunities/innovation
Packaging materials
Philanthropy and community involvement The philanthropy and community involvement contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and effectiveness regarding their charitable activities, including the type (cash, in-kind, employee engagement), purpose, and geographic scope of contributions, and how their philanthropy is tied to their business Cash donations
In-kind donations
Employee engagement
Donation matching
Purpose of activities (healthcare, education, environment, disaster relief, small business development/entrepreneurship/microfinance, poverty reduction/rural development)
Geographic scope of activities
Integration with business
External stakeholder engagement The external stakeholder engagement contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and effectiveness toward integrating the advice of external stakeholders in their business operations, including CSR-related projects. Engagement at both the field level (single-site) and corporate level (company-wide) is examined Engagement for business operations
Engagement for CSR-related projects
Engagement for governance/oversight
Engagement for field-level and corporate-level projects and policies
Supply chain The supply chain contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and effectiveness regarding the CSR aspects of their relationship with suppliers, including the procurement process, contract terms, and monitoring/auditing of suppliers (including contractors, sub-suppliers, joint-venture partners, or other major business associates) Union relations
Employee health and safety
Supply-chain labor standards
Child labor
Women and minority contracting
Supply-chain certifications
Local/global sourcing
Labor relations The labor relations contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and effectiveness regarding its treatment of employees, both direct (employed by the company) and indirect (employed by a partner, such as a supplier). Areas covered include compensation and benefits, health and safety, professional development opportunities, commitment to diversity and equal opportunity, and union relations Union relations
Cash profit sharing
Employee involvement (in ownership, stocks)
Employee health and safety
Supply-chain labor standards
Compensation and benefits
Professional development
Child labor
Employment of underrepresented groups
Workforce diversity/equal opportunity
Governance The governance contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and effectiveness toward following the best practice governance principles in areas including the composition and level of independence of their board of directors, compensation of top management, commitment to relevant governance codes, and shareholder engagement Board composition
Top management compensation
Governance codes/policies
Shareholder engagement
Anti-corruption The anti-corruption contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and effectiveness regarding the prevention of bribery and corruption, through policies and procedures for monitoring activities which are vulnerable, as well as describing any investigation currently underway by regulatory authorities and the steps the company is taking to address the situation Policies for preventing corruption
Discussion of publicized cases of corruption
Political instability
Human rights The human rights contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and effectiveness regarding their impacts on local communities and the rights of indigenous peoples, support for any controversial regimes, and their commitment to protecting freedom of expression and preventing censorship. Note that human rights topics tied to labor issues are covered under the labor relations and/or supply-chain contextual elements Community impact
Indigenous peoples relations
Support for controversial regimes
Freedom of expression/censorship
Discussion of publicized cases of human rights violations
Codes of conduct The codes of conduct contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and implementation of internal and external codes of conduct in the CSR area, including an individual company code of conduct, industry codes of conduct (such as the International Council on Mining and Metals), and universal codes of conduct (such as the UN Global Compact) Individual company codes of conduct
Industry codes of conduct
Universal codes of conduct
Involvement in code governance structure
Integrity assurance The integrity assurance contextual element measures the quality of information provided by the company about their management commitment and effectiveness regarding independent verification of the CSR report, either in its entirety or for specific contextual elements. Independent third-party verification statement
 Internal assessment
 External assessment
Specific contextual element assurance

Appendix 3: Sample Scoring Criteria—Environment

Level Criteria Illustrative examples
0 Report does not discuss activities toward reducing/mitigating the environmental impacts of the company’s business in a meaningful way “The Group has three specific sustainability management goals which are: being wise, being smart and being sustainable… We endeavor to minimize social and environmental risks through green management… KB Financial Group has been dedicated to resolving global environmental issues which are becoming increasingly more serious…” (KB Financial Group Inc., 2014)
I Report provides minimal depth of information on the scope of coverage of the company’s activities toward reducing/mitigating the environmental impacts of the company’s business. Discussion categorized as vague and incomplete “Johnson Controls generally remained on track to achieve our 10 year greenhouse gas, energy, water and waste intensity goals in 2013. We are committed to an annual 1 percent absolute reduction of greenhouse gas emissions across all our businesses. The improvements we make also enhance our financial results. Over the past 10 years, revenue has increased 78 percent while our carbon footprint has increased only 10 percent…” (Johnson Controls, Inc., 2014)
II Report provides fair depth of information on the scope of coverage of the company’s activities toward reducing/mitigating the environmental impacts of the company’s business, including measurable results. Discussion categorized as reasonably detailed and comprehensive “Freescale established a goal in 2010 to reduce our water consumption by our manufacturing operations by 50 % over our 2008 baseline. In 2013, we had a significant production increase over 2012, increasing our absolute water consumption amount; however, we still hope to achieve this 2015 goal… We implemented conservation projects that saved more than 42 million gallons of water and 14.9 million kWh per year…” (Freescale Semiconductor, Ltd., 2014)
III Report provides good depth of information on the scope of coverage of the company’s activities toward reducing/mitigating the environmental impacts of the company’s business, including measurable results and comparisons of outcomes at a company or industry level. Discussion categorized as detailed and comprehensive “In 2013, the total extrapolated amount of carbon emissions from our business operations decreased from 209 to 169 kilotons compared to 2012 and per FTE from 2.4 to 2.2 tons… In the spring of 2012, we partnered with an electric taxi service to support the transportation needs of employees in the Netherlands. Through this initiative, we have ‘greened’ 18,000 km of journeys up to year-end 2013… Our Sustainable Procurement program, which began in the Netherlands in 2012, takes this a step further by embedding ING’s procurement policy towards suppliers into our processes…” (ING Groep N.V. 2014)
IV Report provides excellent depth of information on the scope of coverage of the company’s activities toward reducing/mitigating the environmental impacts of the company’s business, including measurable results and comparisons of outcomes at the company or industry level. Discussion categorized as detailed and comprehensive, and is noted for reaching an exceptional level of disclosure “Since fiscal 2009, we have decreased our total water use by 44.8 % and achieved a one-year reduction of nearly 9.8 % in fiscal 2012. Over the past 4 years, we have lowered water use by more than 2,750 million liters… Hazardous waste makes up only 0.04 % of our total waste output. In fiscal 2013, our volume of waste produced rose by 44 % from the previous year. This increase was due to activities relating to cleaning out an old fuel oil tank at one of our distilleries, which caused 30 tons of redundant fuel to be sent to a facility to be filtered and then blended as fuel for a power plant… Three major air pollutants are sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and particulate matter (PM). These emissions increased by nearly 12 % in fiscal 2013, from 1010 metric tons to 1134 metric tons, primarily due to our burning a greater amount of heavy fuel oil to compensate for our decreased biogas generation…” (Bacardi Limited 2014)
  1. Source The CSR-S Monitor (2014)
  2. Depth (of information) defined as the level of specificity and type of detail included in the report about the different relevant topics and locations of operations. Strong depth of information means the company discussed the Element both narratively (citing specific cases or events) and quantitatively, with a focus on the managerial aspects of the communication, including information on how the relevance of different topics is determined; Scope of Coverage defined as the range of topics and locations discussed in the report. A wide scope of coverage means the company includes information about many of the relevant topics of the Element, both domestic and international

Appendix 4: List of Companies

1 3i Group plca 27 BNP Paribas SA 53 Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A. 79 Regions Financial Corporation
2 ACE limited 28 British Land Company PLC 54 ITOCHU Corporation 80 Royal Bank of Canada
3 AEGON N.V. 29 Caja de Ahorros y Pensiones de Barcelona 55 JPMorgan Chase and Co. 81 Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc
4 Aetna Inc. 30 Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce 56 KB Financial Group Inc. 82 RSA Insurance Group plc
5 Aflac Incorporated 31 China Construction Bank Corp 57 KBC Groep NV 83 Segroplc
6 Agricultural Bank of China Ltd 32 CIGNA Corporation 58 Landesbank Baden-Wurttemberg 84 SocieteGenerale S.A.
7 Aker ASAa 33 Citigroup Inc. 59 Legal and General Group Plc 85 Standard Bank Group Limited
8 Allianz SE 34 CNP Assurances SA 60 Lloyds Banking Group plc 86 Standard Chartered PLC
9 Allstate Corporation 35 Commonwealth Bank of Australia 61 Manulife Financial Corporation 87 Standard Life plc
10 American Express Company 36 Credit Agricole S.A. 62 Marsh and McLennan Companies, Inc. 88 State Street Corporation
11 Aon PLC 37 Credit Suisse Group AG 63 MetLife, Inc. 89 Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Inc.
12 Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A. 38 Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company Limited 64 Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. 90 Sun Life Financial Inc.
13 Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd 39 Danske Bank A/S 65 Mizuho Financial Group, Inc. 91 Swiss Reinsurance Company
14 Aviva plc 40 Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft 66 Morgan Stanley 92 T&D Holdings, Inc.
15 AXA S.A. 41 Deutsche Borse AG 67 MS&AD Insurance Group Holdings, Inc. 93 Tokio Marine Holdings, Inc.
16 Baloise Holding AGa 42 DZ BANK Deutsche Z-G AG 68 MunchenerRuckversicherungs AG 94 Toronto-Dominion Bank [The]
17 Banca Monte deiPaschi di Siena S.p.A. 43 Fifth Third Bancorp 69 National Australia Bank Limiteda 95 U.S. Bancorp
18 Banco Bilbao VizcayaArgentaria, S.A.a 44 First Data Corporation 70 Nedbank Group Limiteda 96 UBS AG
19 BancoBradesco S.A. 45 Glencore International plc 71 Nomura Holdings, Inc. 97 UniCreditS.p.A.
20 BANCO SANTANDER, S.A. 46 Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. 72 Nordea Bank AB 98 UnitedHealth Group Incorporated
21 Bangkok Bank Public Company Ltda 47 GPT Group 73 Northern Trust Corporation 99 Unum Group
22 Bank of America Corporation 48 Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. 74 Old Mutual plc 100 WellPoint, Inc.
23 Bank of Montreal 49 HSBC Holdings plc 75 PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. 101 Wells Fargo and Company
24 Bank of New York Mellon Corp 50 Humana, Inc. 76 Prudential Financial, Inc. 102 Westpac Banking Corporation
25 Bank of Nova Scotia 51 Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd 77 Prudential PLC 103 Wyndham Worldwide Corporation
26 Barclays PLC 52 ING Groep N.V. 78 PT Bank Mandiri (Persero) Tbk.a 104 Zurich Insurance Group Limited
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Sethi, S.P., Martell, T.F. & Demir, M. An Evaluation of the Quality of Corporate Social Responsibility Reports by Some of the World’s Largest Financial Institutions. J Bus Ethics 140, 787–805 (2017).

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  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports
  • Environment social and governance (ESG)
  • CSR monitor
  • Global financial institutions
  • Country-of-origin effect (EOC)
  • GRI
  • ISO 26000
  • Bribery and corruption
  • Philanthropy