Assurance in corporate sustainability reporting in the United Kingdom: stakeholder and corporate perspectives

Pinilla-Urzola, Angela (2011) Assurance in corporate sustainability reporting in the United Kingdom: stakeholder and corporate perspectives. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Sustainability assurance is developing rapidly in the United Kingdom, despite a negative stance from management. Previous studies have examined the practice as represented in statements from 2001 to 2004, companies’ reasons for commissioning assurance services, and the views of assurance providers on stakeholder-centred practice. Despite the importance of stakeholder participation within sustainability assurance exercises, far too little attention has been paid to stakeholders and their views on the phenomenon of sustainability assurance. This research identifies the trends and emerging issues in the practice between 2001 and 2007, investigates corporate management’ views on those issues, and examines stakeholders’ perspectives on the potentialities and problems of assurance practice.

The research follows a mixed-methods two phase explanatory model. A content analysis of assurance statements issued by a sample of FTSE100 companies was used to collect quantitative data on tendencies as to the choice of provider, standards used, level of assurance adopted, procedures employed, and methods of stakeholder inclusion used. Then, these issues were explored via a programme of semi-structured interviews conducted with ten representatives of FTSE100 companies, and eight representatives of different stakeholder groups, and the resulting data analyzed through the lens of key strands of Michael Power’s theory, and legitimacy and stakeholder theories.

Emerging trends of hiring accountancy firms and using the AA1000AS in tandem with the ISAE3000 standard indicate change in the practice. Assurance exercises conducted with substantive test procedures, and of limited level, persist. The AA1000 is the most used standard, however, is not leading to direct participation of stakeholders. While there is some evidence of stakeholder interest, particularly on the part of nongovernmental organisations, the real driving force behind assurance is internal. Organisational constraints, particularly cost considerations, influence further development of the practice. Corporate management did express a desire to bring stakeholder involvement through stakeholder panels.

Corporate management view sustainability assurance as creating value by delivering organisational legitimacy and enhancing reputation. In the current climate of voluntarism, there is a high risk of sustainability assurance being used as greenwashing. For management, sustainability assurance should serve the interest of the organisation and shareholders over other stakeholders. Through the assurance process, organisations manage and control key stakeholder groups. This view is supported by one influential stakeholder group, the investment community. Therefore, the role of stakeholder groups representing other civil society needs is fundamental to ensure that through sustainability assurance accountability is discharged to society at large.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Owen, D.
Chapple, W.
Keywords: assurance, corporate social reporting, Michael Power theory, social accounting
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Nottingham University Business School
Item ID: 12094
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2011 08:51
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2017 12:32

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