Corporate reporting a driver for sustainable development

5 November 2015 by Vincent Huck

Geneva, Switzerland. Better and enhanced corporate reporting will be critical to achieve the United Nations (UN) Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), the delegates of the thirty-second session of the Intergovernmental Working Group of experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting (ISAR32) were told.

ISAR is part of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

At ISAR32 a panel of experts was asked to explore the business case for the SDGs, a set of 17 goals adopted by the UN earlier this year. The SDGs are part of the UN's 2030 agenda for sustainable development which builds on the millennium goals adopted 15 years ago.

ISAR Consultative Group on Corporate Reporting and SDGs chair Richard Martin said that corporate reporting is critical to achieve the SDGs, however it faced two major challenges. "First what information should be included in the reporting," he said. "Second, how to make this information relevant and interesting for users."

Martin referenced the review of best practices performed by UNCTAD and said that while there were a lot of initiatives to improve and enhanced corporate reporting, but that there was a clear lack of co-ordination amongst them.

According to Martin, a problem that needs to be addressed around corporate reporting is its predominant focus on capital markets: while financial reporting benefits from a lot of standards, these standards face some issues. On the other hand non-financial reporting lacks standards and is much more principle based.

"Through improving non-financial reporting as well as improving the whole package of corporate reporting will lead to achieving the SDGs," he concluded.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), acting head of responsible industry and value chain unit Elisa Tonda reminded the delegates that SDGs were only one piece of the jigsaw in the UN 2030 sustainable agenda, and that all the components of the agenda had the common "business case" aspect, all calling for the role of businesses in achieving sustainable development.

Tonda, further to the issues facing corporate reporting, mentioned the need for the information, financial or non-financial, to be assured. She pointed to the research work done by the UNEP. "All interviewed preparers and users stressed the importance of assurance to build and trust in the information reported," she said.

International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) managing director of global implementation Neil Stevenson followed on Tonda presentation and said the IIRC and the SDGs shared the same vision.

Stevenson said there was a clear gap in the different corporate reporting frameworks to cover all of the value chain, and therefore there is a need for a new model of corporate reporting in order to serve a long-termism value creation vision.

Group of Friends of Paragraph 47 president Robin Edme made the case for governments and regulators to act on sustainable reporting. "Sustainable reporting has been around for 10 years and it is time that regulators and government scale up, speed up the process," he said. "The time of promises is over we now need to act."