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August 23, 2021

ESG considerations key part of AI adoption

By Joe Pickard

In a recent report, the ACCA and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) have found a pressing need for the accountancy profession to make the necessary connections between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its relationship to environmental, social and governance (ESG) dimensions.

Polling over 5,700 respondents across 21 countries and geographies, the research revealed a cautious tone, with fewer than half (43%) believing that the impact of AI on their rights as an individual is positive – such as safety and personal security, levels of fairness, choice and transparency.

In the report, Ethics for sustainable AI adoption: Connecting AI and ESG, ACCA and CA ANZ say that professional accountants, with their explicit and long-standing commitment to ethical practices, are well placed to guide organisations along a responsible path for AI adoption.

The report’s nine recommendations include the need to set tone at the top on AI adoption by prioritising an approach that is consistent with organisational values such as diversity and inclusion in considering the impact of AI on under-represented groups, or fairness when it comes to recruitment or surveillance of employees; and transparency such as appropriately disclosing AI use to customers.

Another recommendation for the profession is to challenge greenwashing and seek insights from AI tools to help with professional scepticism in examining whether the organisation’s claims about sustainability, such as on achieving net zero targets, are matched by its performance. Suspect claims need to be challenged.

ACCA chief executive Helen Brand said: “AI adoption must consider the needs of all, especially the under-represented and vulnerable in society. That’s why one of our recommendations is to ensure the profession exercises its professional judgement, because AI may create previously unseen situations. We recommend that professional accountants need to avoid over-reliance on simplistic checklist-based approaches which don’t give the full picture or leave space for unintended consequences.”

CA ANZ chief executive Ainslie van Onselen adds: “Our report found that in order to ethically and sustainably adopt AI, organisations need effective governance mechanisms. This starts with setting the right tone and culture at the top and covers a range of areas from oversight and delivery procedures, to regulation and data governance. AI is a strategic endeavour that should be spearheaded by leaders who know and execute on the difference between what we have a right to do and what is the right thing to do. It’s important to build knowledge and skills at the intersection of AI, ethics and sustainable development. This aligns well to the accountancy profession which can play a key role in driving responsible adoption.”

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