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Non-financial reporting will actively contribute to a new, more responsible corporate world, says Barnier

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24 May 2013

The European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, Michel Barnier, spoke at the Global conference on sustainability and reporting in Amsterdam which also saw the launch of the new G4 guidelines developed by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Barnier highlighted the measures taken by the Commission to promote long-termism in the corporate sector which also include a recent proposal on non-financial reporting.

Barnier started out by drawing a very bleak picture of the current situation with Europe still recovering from the worst crisis in 50 years, a crisis which spread from the financial sector to the every-day life of many citizens and companies. And he made out one key reason why Europe (and the world in general) ended up in the current situation: "short-termism that has dominated the corporate sector for too long".

Restoring the soundness of the financial sector is of course an immediate goal and has been tackled through various measures following recommendations of the G20, which also include reiterated calls on the IASB and FASB to finalise their work on key outstanding projects for achieving a single set of high-quality standards. However, as Barnier points out, if the soundness is to be sustainable, the short-termism dominating the corporate sector needs to be eliminated. Ageing challenge and climate change are very long-term problems; arriving at gender, geographical, educational, professional and age diversity in companies and meeting obligations towards employees, consumers, local communities and public authorities are goals we want to permanently achieve.

For Barnier there is only one way this can be brought about: creating transparency about all these issues. Therefore, so Barnier, Europe has taken a series of measures:

  • In April 2013, the European Commission published proposed amendments to European accounting legislation in order to require certain large companies to provide additional information on social and environmental matters.
  • Also in April 2013, the European Council, Parliament and Commission agreed on the finalisation of a new Accounting Directive that includes new requirements regarding an enhanced transparency in the extractive and logging industries. 
  • Commissioner Barnier also announced that the Commission will expand the reporting obligations that banks must comply with to disclose their profits, taxes and subsidies in each country to all large companies and groups.

Barnier also responded to criticism that Europe should have waited with these initiatives, which will involve costs and efforts, until the economic crisis was over and his response was "But I say: Transparency is part of the solution, not the problem!" However, he stated that while the proposals regarding transparency as well as social and environmental responsibility and the new reporting requirements on banks and extractive and logging industries were the right way to progress, the European Commission will continue to pay attention to not overburdening companies – in particular small and medium businesses – with unreasonable requirements. He concluded:

This is how we will make good practice the norm. And this is how non-financial reporting will actively contribute to the new, more responsible corporate world we need to build together.

Please click for access to the full text of the speech on the European Commission website.

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