On the 29th September 2014, the European Council has introduced amendments to Accounting Directive (2013/34/EU) that mandates corporate business to disclose their non-financial performance. The EU Commission proposed non-binding guidelines on the details of what non-financial information ought to be disclosed by big businesses operating from by EU countries. This legislation respects environmental, human rights, anti-corruption and bribery matters as expressed in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the “Ruggie Principles”) and OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (ECCJ, 2014).
This recent EU directive has marked a step forward towards the hardening of human rights obligations for large “public interest entities” with more than 500 employees. At the moment there are approximately 6,000 large undertakings and groups across the EU. Public interest entities include all the undertakings that are listed on an EU stock exchange, as well as some credit institutions, insurance undertakings and other businesses so designated by Member States.
In a nutshell, these non-financial disclosures should shed light on the corporate businesses’ social and environmentally responsible policies and practices. They will feature a brief description of the undertaking’s business model, including their due diligence processes resulting from their impact of their operations. This EU directive encourages corporates to use relevant non-financial key performance indicators on environmental matters including; greenhouse gas emissions, water and air pollution, the use of (non) renewable energy and on health and safety.
With regards to social and employee related matters, the corporate firms ought to implement ILO conventions that promote fair working conditions for employees. The corporate disclosure of non-financial information can include topics such as; social dialogue with stakeholders, information and consultation rights, trade union rights, health and safety and gender equality among other issues. Businesses should also explain how they are preventing human rights abuses and/or fighting corruption and bribery.
Through this directive the EU commission emphasises materiality and transparency in non financial reporting. It also brought up the subject of diversity at the corporate board levels. It has outlined specific reference criteria that may foster wider diversity in the composition of boards (e.g. age, gender, educational and professional background). The EU Commission has even suggested that this transparency requirement complements the draft directive about women on boards.
This new directive still allows a certain degree of flexibility in the disclosures’ requirements. As a matter of fact, it does not require undertakings to have policies covering all CSR matters. Yet, businesses need to provide a clear and reasoned explanation for not complying with this directive. Therefore, non-financial disclosures do not necessarily require comprehensive reporting on CSR matters (although this is encouraged by the Commission), but only the disclosure of information on policies, outcomes and risks (ECCJ, 2014). Moreover, this directive gives undertakings the option to rely on international, European or national frameworks (eg. the UN Global Compact, ISO 26000) in the light of the undertaking’s characteristics and business environment.
It is envisaged that the first CSR reports will be published in financial year 2017 (ECCJ, 2014).