The International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) have announced a strategic partnership to advance the use of a common framework of high standards of ethical conduct to underpin trust in the assurance of sustainability information.

After extensive engagement over the previous six months, the IAF and the IESBA have agreed to common objectives to support the growth of transparent, relevant, and trustworthy corporate sustainability disclosures.

The cornerstone of the partnership is the IAF’s stipulation to national accreditation bodies around the world that the IESBA’s proposed International Ethics Standards for Sustainability Assurance (including International Independence Standards) (IESSA) are to be used when accrediting and authorising conformity assessment bodies to carry out assurance work on corporate sustainability disclosures. The IESBA recently launched the public consultation on the proposed IESSA and related standards, and is expected to finalise the standards by the end of the year.

Among the key elements of the agreement, both the IAF and the IESBA:

  • Recognise the importance of having a global baseline of high-quality ethics (including independence) standards consistently applied by, and enforced on, all providers of assurance services on corporate sustainability disclosures, whether audit firms, conformity assessment bodies or others.
  • Agree on the importance of establishing connections between the two organisations and to promote consistent use of a global framework of high-quality ethics standards for sustainability assurance.
  • Will collaborate to determine how to incorporate the IESSA as part of the accredited verification activities of ISO/IEC 17029-compliant programs as they apply to assurance of sustainability information.
  • Will share strategic insights and perspectives on their respective work as it relates to assurance of corporate sustainability disclosures.
  • Will explore collaboration with respect to training activities for accreditation bodies and conformity assessment bodies in relation to the proposed IESSA.

Corporate sustainability disclosures provide stakeholders with vital insights into a company’s sustainability practices. Beyond compliance with evolving regulations and standards, sustainability disclosures offer companies a competitive advantage, attracting socially conscious investors, enhancing brand loyalty, and fostering resilience in the face of environmental and social risks. Assurance of these disclosures plays a crucial role in ensuring trust in reporting, particularly given the subjectivity, prospectivity and immaturity of the data underpinning the disclosures.

Commenting on this, IAF chair, Emanuele Riva, said: “Trustworthy sustainability disclosures are vital in demonstrating a company’s commitment to sustainability practices.

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“Through this partnership, we strive to foster trust and confidence in sustainability reporting worldwide.”

IESBA chair, Gabriela Figueiredo Dias, concluded: “A robust, global ethical framework, developed by the IESBA under public oversight and embraced by the IAF, will spur growth in the supply of sustainability assurance practitioners to meet the rapidly increasing market demand for high- quality sustainability information. I am proud of the IESBA and the IAF embarking on this exciting partnership together, which is undoubtedly in the public interest.”