Corporate SERA (social environmental reporting) was created in order to expand on conventional models of financial reporting which puts emphasis on a company’s financial prosperity in order to include social and environmental dimensions (Elkington 1999). Corporate reporting and assurance guidelines are now more than simply optional and voluntary reporting measures for listed companies. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) disclosure became very interesting for the companies when organizations discovered that their actions have consequences affecting all their stakeholders. This is a result of the latest accounting scandals which seem different when looked at from the point of view of the corporate governance market, financial reporting and regulatory or political procedure (Ball 2009). However, despite the major crisis in the latter two sectors, the accounting research community’s response has been slow and inadequate (Parker 2007).
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According to Owen (2011) treatment of corporate SER data has evolved over the years, however though a lack of adequate standardization still remains. Of equal importance is the reaction of big accounting companies whose main aim now is to increase their involvement and input when it comes to creation of standards in for corporate SERA and verification.
With the present environment of confusion and uncertainty, sustainability reporting frameworks have much to add. Set off by the financial crisis, matters of long-term performance, ethics and comprehensive risk management are swiftly gaining importance and consideration. Re-establishing trust and confidence in markets will call for a move to long-term sustainable value creation, and must be an instrument to achieve this aim. Similarly, the company’s decision to seek independence or not, external assurance for their social and environmental reporting will gain more and more support and appliance in corporate reports.
The main aim of this investigative paper is to conduct a methodical assessment of arguments for and against the introduction of mandatory social and environmental reporting assurance (SERA) by presenting discussions based on functions of SERA and its current status, evaluating the importance of SER assurance as well as presenting arguments that favour and those that are against mandatory social and environmental reporting assurance using relevant examples.
Functions of SERA
In recent years the recurrence of certain unfavourable factors, such as the failure of big corporations and corporate scandals, has necessitated the need for organizations to report on more than just their financial progress (FEE 2009 a). Many stakeholders are now calling for company to include non-financial reports with their financial reports to present the true status of the business. Thus many organizations are now exposing their philanthropic activities in terms of social, ethical, and environmental activities.
Traditionally, the only documents required by shareholders, financial intermediaries and potential investors were the financial statements of the organization. The businesses profit and loss account, cash-flow statements, management commentary, notes and auditor’s statements were enough to offer a comprehensive report as to the well-being of the entity. Though adequate, such reports failed to accurately present the ‘risk status’ of the company (Gray and Maunders 1987).
Financial statements are based on the previous data. Due to this very nature, such reports are inadequate when trying to forecast the future performance of the organization. In order for prospective shareholders to make informed decisions, they need a future oriented data. However, when it comes to accounting and future-oriented data, there is a clear conflict whose nature lies in such data’s reliability and relevance (Altenburger and Schaffhauser-Linzatti, 2007). Over the years the stakeholders have noticed the relationship between a firms’s past performance, its present state and its organizational structure; i.e. corporate governance, environmental and social activities and how it treats its employees. The corporation’s integrity, as well as its relationship with the society and the environment became a measure of its economic performance (Gonella, Pilling and Zadek 1998). This brought about emergence of the first CSR report circa 1990’s. These social and environmental reports include details on how the organizations’ activities impact their immediate environment and the society that lives within it, and information relevant to stakeholder groups such as employees, consumers, customers and suppliers (G.R.I 2002 and SIGMA 2003). Then and now the sustainability reports serve to make public the transparency and integrity of respective organizations. This includes crucial information that enables investors and consumers to make informed decisions, especially on sectors where the environment and community play a big role in the financial continuity of the enterprise.
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In light of the various gains, social and environmental reporting bring to an organization though, there are those who argue that corporations only make such information public in a bid to improve their reputation (Jones and Solomon 2010, p. 22). Furthermore, the weight given to social issues and environmental issues is grossly imbalanced. According to Lungu et al. (2009, p.5), though corporations start out with good intentions, when it comes to issues of sustainability, they are rarely able to transform the same into visible actions and results. An analysis conducted by Epstein and Birchard (1999) found that the main reason behind this was the lack of institutionalization of recommendations and procedures of social and environmental reporting.
The above arguments are what brought about SERA, whose main function is to introduce greater accountability and transparency within organizations, as well as introduce a standardized format for social and environmental reporting (Jones and Solomon 2010, p. 25).
When sustainability reports first emerged, corporations took it upon themselves to voluntarily merge them into their annual reports along with their financial statements. This willingness to implement such a measure was prompted by increasing pressure from government regulators, non-governmental organizations and other concerned stakeholders, but it was mostly driven by the fact that organizations would be free to select the information to be reported on. Critics of the ‘sustainability reporting movement’ claim that this it was a weak form of accountability (Owen, 2003 p. 16). Studies conducted concluded that sustainability report disclosures, as well as institutional reforms, intended to enhance accountability and give more say to stakeholders fell short of the intended target (Cooper and Owen 2007). This is in part due to the poor participation of stakeholders in the process.
SERA first came about as a way to make sure the sustainability reports of companies were all harmonized. After most organizations jumped the bandwagon, sustainability reports became an industry trend. The only problem with this however was that each company had its own framework for reporting, which made it increasingly hard for the companies to be ranked based on this criterion. It was then that the GRI – Global Reporting Initiative came up with an interesting framework (Commission of the European Communities 2001). Though not a formally enforced method of standardization, it acts as a guideline for reporting entities. Based on the framework, the sustainability report is meant to include an analysis of outcomes in the context of the strategies, commitments and managerial approach of the organization within the reporting period (Weiss and Scheiwiller 1999). SERA, while adding value to SER, ensures a sort of standardization across the industry, as there are certain principles (i.e. IAS 3000) that accountants must follow when assuring SER’s (Li 2001).
Current status of SERA
The beginning of the 21st century saw the emergence of sustainability reports in the market, this period marks the time when social responsibility of corporations first became a public issue (W.C.E.D 1987). SERA, on the other hand, took a few years to come into being. The main reason behind this was that SER was a voluntary measure taken by corporations (Bruyn 1987). Since self-regulation in this sector seemed to work, there was no need for external influence. However, stakeholders began demanding for external regulation at the close of the 1990’s. The debate was between those that believed SER was a management tool (opponents of SERA) and those who believed organizations needed SERA to enhance their responsibility to the public.
Currently, a number of bodies such as FEE, A.C.C.A, I.A.S.B and I.C.A.E.W are taking up the role of regulation by setting up standards by which SER can be audited (FEE 2009 b; FEE 2000). In the Euro zone alone, companies are encouraged to include sustainability or SER reports in along with their yearly results to conduct audits at the same time. As a measure of support, EU member nations have implemented article 46 of the amended fourth directive on financial reporting. This ensures that companies do more than voluntarily report on their social and environmental activities. It proves that these reports have to be assured for credibility.
The importance of SERA
The growing number of failures among exchange quoted corporations coupled with the increasing corporate scandals has prompted investors and other business stakeholders to demand for organizational transparency on their corporate behaviour and social and environmental activities (Lungu et. al 2009). As a response to this demand, businesses have voluntarily incorporated social and environmental reporting into their business reporting models. Assurance is inevitably a part of this process as well (Jones 1999). At the end of the financial year during the audit of the financial reports, the sustainability reports also underwent an assurance check. Since it is impossible to use the same audit criteria for both sustainability reports and financial reports, new provisions have to be created for the former (Macve and Carey 1992). This audit process is called social and environmental reporting assurance, though relatively new, it has sparked as much controversy within organizations along the same lines as the continuing CSR controversy. The main issue about SERA that has being debated today is whether it should be made mandatory. As far as the organization itself is concerned, SERA is important as a strategic tool. Organization, social, and environmental reporting contribute to their financial success directly. By implementing SERA, they also make it possible for top managers to create new strategies in anticipation of the latest market risks and opportunities.
On the other side of the argument, reporting is considered a vital communication mechanism that can ensure a larger deal of corporate transparency is possible while facilitating a better relationship with stakeholders. SER at its core is mostly voluntary in nature and is driven primarily by market forces. Offering precise, credible and dependable information on financial and non-financial aspects to the associated parties allows the organization to achieve its short term profitability goals while also keeping in mind its long term sustainability strategies.
Generally, the main aim of assurance is to complement the internal processes of the business which are designed to build organizational sustainability while engendering trust among stakeholders. It is also meant to enhance credibility while confirming the views presented in the organizations’ annual reports. With regards to investors, social and environmental reporting assurance is important as it helps them make informed future decisions about their investments. It also helps them reassure the state of the organizations credibility. This is particularly important as there is a widespread belief that those who allude to uphold corporate sustainability through SER rarely conduct themselves in a manner that is socially responsible (Lungu et. al 2009).
Arguments for and against SERA
While social and environmental reporting is not mandatory or enforced, for those countries that incorporate sustainability reports with their financial reports auditing of both is essential. Though when it comes to SERA, the term ‘auditing’ is not used as it presents other connotations, assurance must take place to assure external users of the information that the data they have is both correct and credible. The main point of contention that can be found at the centre of the mandatory SERA debate is the issue of willingness. The question is if the production of sustainability reports is voluntary, then on what basis can and should SERA be made mandatory?
As seen in Jones and Solomon (2010, p. 26-27), the argument for and against mandatory SERA is split down the middle with equal numbers in the opposing and supporting teams. In case the interviews were conducted, the interviewees were discussing the merits and demerits of external SERA. In this case, we will take ‘external SERA’ to stand instead of mandatory SERA. The legitimacy of the substitution lies in that if mandatory SERA were to be implemented it inevitably had to be carried out by an external assurance team. The driving argument behind the opposing team was the view that internal assurance is enough. Popular opinion among this group was that companies should be allowed to regulate themselves. Along with the organizations systems of corporate governance, an internal audit would be enough to support the credibility of its sustainability report.
The supporters of external assurance supported their opinions by stating that an external report would add value to SER. They argued that if a problem arose, the internal audit team would not be able to solve it; in fact, it might be a symptom of the problem. One of the interviewees implied that the idea of using the audit process as a way to solve a larger problem is inefficient and highly ineffective. Rather the audit process would be one of the steps used in getting to the solution (Jones and Solomon 2010).
The argument is further clarified by clearly placing proponents and opponents into two camps (O’Dwyer & Owen 2005; Ball et. al 2000). Opponents of external SERA believe that the social and environmental reporting assurance is a managerial tool that is used to asses the impact and viability of the management systems when it comes to sustainability. The proponents, on the other hand, believe that SER should be externally assured and presented to the public to assure the stakeholders.
In order to develop some measure of social and environmental disclosure, I conducted a content analysis of the information provided in the CSR statements and reports published by the organizations used in my sample.
Weber (1990) defines this process as a method of codifying text into a set of groups on the basis of selected criteria. Content analysis according to Abbot and Monsen (1979) is most often viewed in CSR and SERA as a method of gathering data (consisting of codified qualitative information) in literary and anecdotal forms into groups which is then used to develop quantitative scales of different complexity levels. On the basis of this information therefore Gephart (2004) defines content analysis is qualitative as well as quantitative (i.e. it uses qualitative data which is then quantified) as focusing solely on one approach could lead to the researches neglecting the challenges that arise from the method’s complex character.
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Primary research is investigational and consists of academic work done to attain new and advanced knowledge. This theoretical work is often intended to increase understanding of certain phenomena or behaviour but does not seek to resolve or manage these problems. In this study, fundamental research was aimed at critical evaluation of SER assurance. On the basis of the literature the study identified the main the arguments for and against mandatory social and environmental reporting.
Many surveys have been in circulation over the years on the scope of SER at mostly European and global levels, conducting a thorough evaluation of them though is outside of the informational range of this report. A glance at the increasing popularity in independent sustainability reports among the larger corporations may be examined however, by calling attention to the series of triennial publications K.P.M.G has made since 1993. Examining the reporting tradition of the top 100 organizations in eleven nations, nine of which are European the following observations can be drawn. Traditionally, among European countries, Scandinavian countries are pioneers in terms of the sheer number of published reports. That said though a recent K.P.M.G study of the UK has revealed that the country has overtaken them to lead the group at forty-nine percent of the top 100 that produce independent sustainability reports (K.P.M.G 2002). Other runners up in this category include major industry players in Germany, Finland and the Netherlands demonstrating about thirty to forty percent in reporting rates. France is also worth mentioning as it has experienced a significant rise of about 17% (between 1999 and 2002) in the companies that undertake separate reporting. This could have been precipitated by the anticipation of new legislation aimed at implementing mandatory reporting conditions. It is important to note that the incidence of independent reporting is not uniform across the board. Certain industry sectors such as oil and gas, chemicals and synthetics, forestry, pulp and paper and utilities traditionally have higher reporting rates.
The fact that the tradition of sustainability reporting has been adopted by many key players in the market across Western Europe is not surprising as there has been a significant amount of pressure and influence from a number of sources (Power 1994).
These influences have included:
Supra-national entities: Key among which is the United Nations.
Environment Program (U.N.E.P). Launched in 1994 it is mandated as a sustainability engagement stakeholder that has brought pressure to bear non reporters through a type of name-and-shame campaign. Another notable entity is the E.M.A.S the European Union’s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme which has a disclosure and certification condition.
Sovereign states: The focus here is on supporting the growth and implementation of voluntary reporting principles, for instance the United Kingdom’s D.E.F.R.A/D.T.I sustainability reporting guidelines that were published in 2001 with the support of the government (Henrique and Reynard 2001). As stated earlier France has also opted to take a legislation backed approach to environmental reporting after the recent examples of the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Special attention here though is placed on the financial report at the end of the year end as opposed to the special purpose report as a medium of disclosure.
Commercial Organizations: The fundamental working s of the Business Charter for Sustainable Development (International Chamber of Commerce, 1991) has been advanced in recent years by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Furthermore various business organizations at the national level e.g. the UK’s Confederation for Business Industry, have been playing a hands-on role in the drafting of sustainable reporting guidelines.
Industrial Associations: Perhaps the most prominent being the Responsible Care Programmer’s sustainability reporting guidelines, a program implemented by C.E.F.I.C , the European Chemical Industry Council
Accounting Profession Associations: In Europe the umbrella body for accounting professionals the FEE (Fédération des Experts Compatibles Européens) has played a very active role in the creation of instructions, provision of SERA services and developing a framework under which such reporting can be strengthened. In addition to this while national bodies are working hard to promote research into SER accounting issues international accounting agencies are involving themselves in SER assurance and provision of consultancy services.
The most outstanding among international accounting associations is the UK’s A.C.C.A the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants which, among other projects implemented an awards scheme for environmental reporting (1991).Over the years this initiative has expanded to include sustainability and social reporting dimensions which has led to the establishment of the E.E.R.A (European Awards Scheme). This rewards scheme started in 1996 gets its contribution from international accountancy organizations across Europe. This increase in the number of companies that publish environmental reports has also resulted in an improvement of the quality of reports that are published. Initial disclosure reports consisted mostly of organizations publishing slightly dubious qualitative data in their annual finance reports or dissemination of information that served little purpose other than to serve as a public relation opportunity for the company. A study of the disclosure practices of 150 European companies concluded that most companies would provide information lacking in relevance and context i.e. information on certain activities in certain sectors and little to no information on its external benchmarks or future plans (Adams et. al 1995).
Despite this though, continuous improvement is noted by the levels of success recorded by A.C.C.A UK and the European Environmental Reporting Awards scheme which make up the judging panel for successful economic reports. Some of the improvements noted for instance are in the structure and the content. Rather than focus purely on public relations exercises organizations are now willing to disclose bad news as well as good along with data on any planned improvements stated against a backdrop quantified targets. The reports issued today also reflect the industry wide developments made in SER thus making it possible for intra industry contrasts to be made; a situation that was not possible before.
Despite the absence of a conclusive regulatory guidance system, a comprehensive and coherent SER framework has still been able to emerge. Due to this informal type of standardization SER reports typically include:
A company profile – presenting an outline of the organization including details such as size, products offered market share and key environmental impacts.
Proof of management commitment levels – This typically comprises an organizational statement from the company CEO detailing in general terms their intended environmental management strategy.
A (conclusive) environmental strategy statement – This is a declaration of commitment by the organization to follow through with certain goals. This statement will serve as a platform for creating conclusive and detailed targets against which the organizations performance will be measured. This is in terms of management, measuring and reporting environmental performance.
Goals and realizations – This addresses crucial aspects about energy usage as well as natural resources or waste creation and emissions to air and water.
Knowledge and use of academic literature
During the preliminary investigative phase, I conducted research on auditing and CSR. Information was mostly gathered from secondary sources such as newspaper articles, journals and text books. The gathered data, however, was not enough to answer the question at hand, thus it served more as a guideline for the direction of the paper. On the basis of the preliminary data, I gathered data for SER in online academic journals and company publications. Most of these contained links to other articles based on SERA. The bulk of most of the data was gathered from publications from the various accounting bodies such as FEE, A.C.C.A, I.A.S.B, G.R.I and U.N.E.P.
Great strides have been made in corporate SERA over the past decade with regards to rigor and broadness. It is imperative however to strike cautionary note at this point.
Initially it should be stressed that the reporting techniques described are pursued by a minority, even among Europe’s top 150.Despite the number of companies that have undertaken to implement SERA, Hannele (2006) notes that many more still continue to furnish sustainability reports with very brief and very basic information, especially companies in the environmental sector. In the ‘second tier’ companies (those below the top 100) SERA is most conspicuous by its absence, though even those among the top 100 report a fair amount of difficulty. The latest judging reports by A.C.C.A and E.E.R.A judges’ call attention to the lack of clarity in the strategic priority portion of their reports and as a result fail to rank targets. The end result of this is that a great deal of over aggregated information was generated which makes it challenging for data users to navigate through (A.C.C.A 2001, 2002). More problems identified were the fact that the connection to financial reporting was more often than not blurred and the performance disparities lacking. It was noted that emphasis needed to be placed on trend analysis thus making it possible for easier explanation of performance progress or deterioration.
However, it can reasonably be argued that the limitations such as the ones pointed out above should be anticipated given the current level of development in this sector. Nevertheless, certain trouble areas seem to be somewhat stubborn. The most fundamental is the verification process and its independence. Simply put corporate management appoints verifiers who then report their findings to corporate management. A distinct difference can be drawn here with the typical financial audit procedures where a far as the law is concerned the verifiers are mandated by the shareholders whom they then report to on management’s use of invested funds.
This issue of auditor autonomy is, one of the issues of contention and is indicative of a larger problem. This issue has led to continued confusion among stakeholder groups especially as the company is trying to communicate with them through the environmental reporting process. Furthermore lies the issue of usage of the information provided and verified as it is what stakeholders will use to hold management accountable for whatever they do. Aside from referencing issues such as risk management and enlightened self-interest, little if any thought seems to have gone into the corporate governance consequences of SER. This is clearly summarized in ICAEW’s 1992 Environment Research Group report. It suggests that:
It would be prudent for an organization to ensure that the appropriate data is disseminated to all the relevant user groups – whether it is user groups that they have direct contact with or the larger society in general – that in light of the information received are in a position to act and thus affect the organizations future performance indirectly or indirectly (I.C.A.E.W 1992).
Regrettably, there is a conflict that managers must face when prioritizing stakeholder interests or the bottom line. There is an obvious need to rank the interest of specific stakeholders during the report generating exercise and thus create reports that are geared towards directly addressing their requirements. For example, if shareholders were to be declared the primary audience for SER, then the aforementioned weaknesses such as not naming strategic priorities along with the lack of financial report integration i.e. not declaring the implications to the bottom line that the organizations environmental management strategy will undoubtedly have, will need to be immediately rectified. Most of the concerns that are raised have to do with the fact that company-shareholder communication is blurred as the primary focus for most shareholders is the financial bottom line. This calls into question the need for and the efficiency of a separate sustainability report.
Casual perusal of a large number of the sustainability reports published over the past few years will however show that shareholders re indeed not the only ‘primary’ stakeholder groups in this case. There is a great need expressed be it implicitly or explicitly to address information to a greater audience.
With the number of companies claiming to be dedicated in the pursuit of sustainable organizational practices as defined in the 1897 Brundtland report (from the World Commission on Environment and development) failing to take considerations of the social dimension would be very unfortunate. This report went to great lengths to impress on related stakeholders that the environment cannot be thought of in separate terms in relation to human needs, ambitions and actions, the connections evident between inequality, poverty and environmental degradation formed a larger part of their analysis and recommendations (Tricker 1983 and Weber 1990). That is to say discounting considerations made in the Brundtland report, the concerns directly associated with eco-justice in inter and intra generational equity terms end in attention being aimed at symptoms and rarely if ever causes of the environmental problems.
A matter of significance for other stakeholders aside from organizational shareholders is that assessments of sustainability with regards to business performance are more likely to be influenced by social as well as solely environmental concerns. For instance, introducing secure employment as one of the measures of dealing with intra generational equity can drastically change perceptions which were traditionally derived from examining only single dimensional (physical) SER reports about a company’s sustainability contributions (Williams and Haslam 1995). Examining the case of private utilities corporations in the UK in the 1990’s, offers a practical example. In the initial days of the A.C.C.A ’s awards scheme utility organizations such as telecommunications, power and water figured prominently and can in fact be said to have been at the head of the pack in environmental reporting shortlists. At the same time, these organizations were feverishly reducing their labour force in order to increase the amount of dividends they paid out to their shareholders (Tareq 2002). Paradoxically in this case what amounted to wastage of human labour also led to the same efficiency motive that guides environmental performance. It is however difficult if not downright complicated to place the societal structure bound to arise from such a practice as being sustainable, no matter how efficiently eco-friendly goals are being pursued.
The main issue with the sustainability reporting initiatives discussed is their sole concentration on the eco-friendly aspect of sustainability. The supposition is implied that environmental challenges can be addressed with a business as usual attitude without thoroughly re-examining fundamental economic as well as social values and lifestyles (Owen 2008). It should be noted that such a mentality fails to take into account the complex nature of sustainability with regard to the eco justice dimension wherein the concern for inter an intra-generational equity is primary. This latter dimension that the report purports to discuss is also the focus of primary attention to stakeholders. While the example of providing secure employment was a functional example it was simple, other examples that lays focus on the community impact of organizations in both developed and developing countries could have been equally employed.
Along with the failure to meet stakeholder information needs it has also been mentioned that corporate governance mechanisms are yet to evolve in a manner that would make it possible for stakeholders to effectively use information provided in SER to make effective decisions or recognize the information that has not yet been provided. The crux of the matter is that the stakeholders involves in the SER process unlike their counterparts in the financial auditing process appear to be greatly marginalized by corporate management and thus rendered incapable of holding them accountable in any capacity. Interestingly enough the wave of corporate SER that arose in the 1990’s seems like it could hold the answers to the problems being faced by the current models in use. This model that seemed a natural extension of earlier SER initiatives seems to address issues such as deficiency of information and stakeholder marginalisation. It is to this modern initiative that we must now concentrate on.
Reporting is considered a crucial communications implement which can be used to enable a greater deal of transparency in corporations and thus engender better interaction with stakeholder groups (Medawar 1976; Gray, Owen and Maunders 1987). Social, environmental and sustainability reporting (SERA) is a mostly voluntary process which appears to be driven by various market forces. Offering precise, credible and dependable data – non-financial as well as financial – to the interested parties will make it possible for the achievement of long term sustainability while still realizing short term goals of the company profitability wise. Jackson, Milne and Owen (2005) provide good recommendations for sustainability standards. Soon compliance will become mandatory and not voluntary however; here are also various material benefits that accrue to an organization one they implement sustainable operational practices.
More and more companies (e.g. in the Euro-zone) are beginning to give concise and focused sustainability information in their annual report, as a proof to reliable information, with full sustainability reports on their websites along with written accounts. This reporting format indicates an increasing level of maturity with regards to sustainability reporting among companies world-wide. However, the voluntary nature of sustainability reporting explains the great differences in the content and the lack of assurance of disclosed social and environmental information. The assurance deficiency when it comes to sustainability reports raises various issues on not only the data’s accuracy but also its reliability. Given imminent legislation in various regions that will make SERA mandatory it is a point that companies should take into serious consideration.
Social and environmental reporting contributes directly to the organizations financial success. By implementing SERA they also make it possible for top managers to create new strategies in anticipation of the latest market risks and opportunities.
However, even with the above fact established in the present, most companies seem like they are struggling under a wave of stakeholder rhetoric which given the current climate in politics and economics leads them to a dead end in so far as the issue of corporate accountability extension is concerned.
Given the crucial focus most government laws award to the concerns of the bottom line and financial capital, proponents of the corporate accountability cause are better of arguing on the basis of the operations of the capital markets – especially the large amount of power held by organizational fund manager – as opposed to taking part in stakeholder dialogue processes that are mostly controlled by the organizations themselves. Only through this can they increase the chances of their success.
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The duration of this module has enabled me to gain greater insight into the principles of accounting and the various techniques entailed there. The course in particular has made it possible for me to have greater scope when it comes to critically examining the various accounting techniques and their application. Among the useful skills that I have learned are the various methods of budgeting, reporting, and assurance of organizational reports. Key among these is the process of social and environmental reporting and social and environmental reporting assurance. The investigative study report that accompanies this paper covers the understanding that I received from the model of sustainability report assurance, its evolution over the ages, its importance to the organization and the accounting industry along with insight into the current status of social and environmental reporting assurance including the ongoing debate surrounding it. This reflective report has details of how I conducted the investigative study, how the information I gathered during the creation of this report has enhanced my learning experience, the issues that I faced during the research and writing of the investigative study and details on how I can be able to resolve such problems should they arise again in the future.
Formulation of this report has been an eye-opening experience for me. The entire process of data researching and collection has not only made me aware of information that is critical to the topic, but also enlightened me as to the current status in the accounting world of SERA. The data gathered from this topic was from a variety of secondary resources. This includes reports published by organizations, professional journals, books, newspaper articles and company journals, websites, non-governmental agencies and other independent pieces of work. Initially gathering the data for the investigative study was hard as this is a relatively new topic in the industry and thus there is limited information on to social and environmental assurance. However, as I reviewed the preliminary data that I gathered which was mostly on corporate social responsibility and auditing with regards to financial reports, I began to form an idea about how I can gather more useful information. For the most part, my preliminary data had reference to books and periodicals where I could gather more information on social and environmental assurance, as well as links (from the data I gathered online) as to where I could get more data on the topic. While this by no means lessened the amount of information I had to collect, it served me in good stead by pointing me in a more suitable direction.
I found the process of reviewing the gathered information for my first draft to be somewhat challenging. This was mostly due to the abundance of information. This, coupled with the slight difficulties, I have when it comes to analyzing and interpreting data for its importance made it a little difficult for me to be able to carry out the assigned task in the provided time period. Thus, it took quite a few tries before I was able to adequately collect the data in a written format that would enable the reader to understand the concept being brought forth by the paper and the ideas underlying the proposed points. The last draft of the investigative report is as a result of detailed reviews of similar studies conducted by other researchers. I tried to present my information the way they presented their data on social and environmental reporting assurance, its industry importance and whether it should be made a mandatory practice.
The main problems I faced while compiling my investigative report were data assimilation, information interpretation and analysis and finally writing the report in a format that would convey the topic adequately. To prevent such problems from occurring in the future I intend to broaden my scope when it comes to data collection. This time I opted for secondary sources of information only. However from the referenced data that was made available by the lecturer I deducted that primary data such as interviews with related experts served to shed more light on the topic. Therefore for future work I intend to include a fair deal of primary data. Along with this though I will also plan on familiarizing myself with the various academic journals and published periodicals relevant to my course. This will make sure that I am up to date on all the relevant activities that are taking place in the industry and their impact. Primary data collection should also serve to help when it comes to interpretation of collected secondary data. For the data that I do not understand or that I cannot properly relate to the question I intend to get guidance from professionals in the industry that are familiar with the topic.
As to the issues of writing the investigative report I intend to engage my self in the analysis and writing on various topics relevant to my major and have the result analyzed by my peers and seniors. Through such a continuous writing process I will be able to improve not only the quality of my writing but also the speed at which I write. In addition to this I intend to set myself deadlines i.e. time periods within which I must gather relevant information, analyze it and write it down, this will help me plan my research time more efficiently and in the end I should be able to eradicate the problems I had with time allocation in this instance.
By undertaking the outlined measures I am confident that I will be able to improve my skills which will not only benefit me educationally but also professionally. I plan from now on to critically check and analyze every piece of finished written work and take into serious consideration the feedback that I get. I realize that it is only through this that I will be able to systematically improve to a quality that will enable me to write professional reports on the same should I so choose.