An excerpt from my latest paper, entitled, “The Integrated Reporting of Financial, Social and Sustainability Capitals: A Critical Review and Appraisal” that will be published by the International Journal of Sustainable Society (this journal is indexed in Scopus).
A thorough literature review suggests that the integrated report is more than just a summary of financial, social, sustainability and governance information in corporate disclosures (Adams, 2015). The integrated disclosures constitute a full picture of a company’s overall business performance. Organisations are looking at all aspects of their value-creating capitals, including; financial; manufactured; intellectual; human; social (and relationship); as well as natural capitals (IR, 2013). These capitals complement and compete against each other. Therefore, the practitioners who would like to comply with IIRC’s <IR> framework will probably experience a dynamic process of adaptation, learning and action to redesign their disclosures. They may have to change their internal management systems, processes and strategies to incorporate ESG issues into their core business model (Camilleri, 2015b, Adams, 2015, Churet & Eccles, 2014; Eccles & Krzus, 2010).
Relevant academic literature has yielded many recommendations, ideas and concepts that have surely improved corporate reporting (Crowther, 2016). This contribution also reported how “integrated thinking” in corporate reporting involves the inclusion of material information on financial and non-financial matters (Adams & Simnett, 2011). Moreover, it linked the organisations’ integrated reporting with the conceptual developments that were conspicuous in the stewardship, institutional and legitimacy theories, among others. This paper has indicated that these theoretical insights have focused on the rationale for the inclusion of non-financial information in corporate disclosures (Adams et al., 2016; Eccles & Krzus, 2010). Although, there are reasonable arguments in favour and against integrated reporting; in sum, the researcher believes that the IIRC’s framework has proved to be a useful instrument for those responsible organisations who are communicating about their financial and non-financial capitals (IIRC, 2017). The framework contains guiding principles and content elements that will enable organisations to disclose a true and fair view of their holistic activities. Conversely, the avoidance of ESG disclosures from their corporate reports can result in a highly-distorted picture of current and future business activities (Camilleri, 2017).
This research has evidenced how the theoretical insights from academic literature have led to the development of integrated reporting. It explained that the organisations’ stewardship behaviours, including their ‘integrated thinking’ can help them improve their legitimacy among stakeholders and institutions. The researcher contended that IIRC’s <IR> framework supports organisations in their holistic reporting approaches as it takes into account material information on financial, manufactured, intellectual, human, social and natural capitals.
Indeed, the IIRC’s <IR> framework was a recent development in corporate reporting. This framework has its inherent limitations that were duly pointed out in this paper. However, this contribution maintains that integrated reporting provides a road map for those organisations who would like to pursue the sustainability path (Dacin et al., 2007). The framework is based on the general notion that integrated accounting considers both financial and non-financial information to give a true and fair view of the company’s overall business performance. When practitioners embed ESG disclosures and “integrated thinking” they help to catalyse positive behavioural change within their respective organisation (Adams & Simnett, 2011). This integrated thinking influences the practitioners’ ethical behaviours and their stance on financial and non-financial performance (Camilleri, 2015b). The researcher believes that the framework’s strategic focus calls for both internalisation and externalisation processes. Internalisation is a process through which the organisation’s human resources adopt the framework’s external ideas, opinions, views or concepts, as their own. This process starts with learning about the reporting framework, and why its development makes sense to the organisation, as a whole. The internal stakeholders will probably experience a process of adaptation until they finally accept that their organisation’s integrated reporting of financial and non-financial capitals creates value over time. Thus, the internalisation process can be understood as a process of acceptance of a new set of norms and working practices that will improve the organisation’s performance, in the long term.
The organisations’ internal transformation may lead to significant changes in terms of the embeddedness of ESG performance in their operational processes. The non-financial disclosures will shed light on the externalities that affect stakeholders and other unrelated parties. In other words, through integrated reporting; the internal effects of integrated reporting are finally externalised outside the organisations’ boundaries. At times, organisations may intentionally or unintentionally conceal ESG information from stakeholders. Certain unethical practices may result from conscious or unconscious organisational behaviours or simply from misconduct when dealing with extensive information outputs.
In conclusion, this contribution suggests that the <IR> framework is a step in the right direction as integrated reporting leads to the re-evaluation of the organisations’ legitimacy (Beck et al., 2015; Dacin et al., 2007; Brown & Deegan, 1998). Hence, IIRC’s framework encourages organisations to report both positive and negative behaviours that substantively affect their ability to create value over the short, medium and long term. Practitioners are also expected to provide an adequate and sufficient context about their strategy, governance and prospects in a balanced way (Camilleri, 2017).
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