Alliance for Corporate Transparency launches research report on sustainability reporting

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18 Feb 2020

At a launch event on 17 February 2020 in Brussels, the Alliance for Corporate Transparency presented a report that analysed the information that companies disclosed on their environmental and societal risks and impacts following the requirements introduced by the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive. The launch embedded the research into discussions around 'The State of Corporate Sustainability Reporting in the EU'.

The study assessed how 1000 European companies disclose sustainability and other non-financial information. Key findings of the study were:

  1. Less than 22% of the companies surveyed report climate-related key performance indicators in summarised statements, the rest of them publish them scattered around in different locations or not at all;
  2. only 20%-25% of companies describe risks specifically even though identifying them as relevant to the company in the first place;
  3. the TCFD criteria are not applied;
  4. outcomes are only reported in 4% of cases despite that fact that risks are identified and in some cases activities described;
  5. supply chain transparency is low with supply chain transparency in the apparel sector being the highest but still not exceeding 14%;
  6. only 6% of companies provide economic figures on sustainability activities;
  7. disclosures are immaterial.

There is not a major difference between different European regions, with the exception that companies from former Eastern Europe lag behind.

Generally, disclosures are not specific enough to enable understanding of a company’s position and future developments. Reports focus on presenting general policies and commitments, but not concrete targets, outcomes of policies with respect to these targets, and specific information on risks and impacts.

The following additional information is available on the Alliance for Corporate Transparency website:

The embedding launch event offered two opening speeches by MEPs, a panel discussion and two fire-side chat sessions on the direction for the reform of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive and an explanation of the plans of the European Commission regarding the Non-Financial Reporting Directive. Panel members included representatives from WWF, the analysts side, the industry, GRI, CDP, and CDSB. The European Commission was represented by Alain Deckers, Head of the Unit on corporate reporting, audit and credit rating agencies. All parts of the launch event offered the audience opportunities to raise questions or comments. The main messages that emerged from the panels and the audience were:

  • While quite a lot of companies provide information, very few provide useful information.
  • Analysts don't want more information, they want relevant information.
  • Materiality is of essence.
  • There is a great tendency towards boiler plate information.
  • The lack of useful information is not only due to a lack of clearness in the reporting requirements, but also due to how these are applied, how the reports are drawn up, and how much demand/pressure there is from the user side.
  • Reporting on individual matters very often improves, once "something has happened".
  • Information lacks connectivity.
  • Information needs to be comparable, yet companies must be allowed to report on what is relevant for them.
  • Information should be forward looking and identify not only risks but opportunities.
  • Sustainability reporting can learn from financial reporting, where there already are a well-established architecture, an international standard-setter, and international standards.
  • There should be more connection between financial information and non-financial information.
  • Disclosure alone, even if mandatory, does not suffice to achieve a change in company behaviour.
  • It is a mistake to try to use reporting legislation to manage a moral obligation.

In his concluding remarks, Mr Deckers noted that the results presented in the research form a great evidence base for the upcoming review of the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive. He clearly distinguished between "review" and "revision", although he noted that politics and markets have moved on since the Directive was first released. Mr Deckers stated that sustainability must be "at the heart of" company reporting, but he also conceded that it is only part of the picture and cannot solve all the problems. He also pointed at the tension between principles-based and rule-based requirements that is well known from financial reporting and that would form part of the debate on sustainability reporting. As regards the way forward, Mr Deckers pointed at the recently launched initiative to review the Non-Financial Reporting Directive, the three-month corresponding consultation that would open very soon ("later this week"), and an expected proposal for legislation at the end of 2020. He also mentioned that preparatory work for standard-setting would begin in parallel, in order to be able to move quickly.

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