Towards improved corporate social and environmental reporting in South Africa.
Mitchell, Clyde Geoffrey.
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This thesis contributes towards improving corporate social and environmental reporting (CSR) in South Africa, by determining what about CSR would need to be and could be improved. The sources of information for this were twofold. A comprehensive literature review, besides providing the background to the study, determined what specific criticisms have been levied against existing CSR disclosure and CSR systems. This thesis argued that many of these limitations arise out of the many primarily rule-based systems in existence and use, and that CSR should rather be based on sound fundamental principles and a conceptual framework, and be an enforceable standard i.e. with legal backing to ensure compliance. The second source of information on possible areas of improvement was from the users and or the stakeholders. In Part I of the thesis, these users or stakeholders were surveyed to determine which areas of reporting were important, and which needed to be better reported. What was important was that significant expectation gaps were found in CSR specifically regarding reporting the impacts on employees, the public and consumers and the physical and biotic environment. This provided evidence for the need for improvements in actual reporting in these traditional CSR areas, and hence il, . justification for the work ofthis thesis. Having identified areas of weakness and potential improvement in current CSR, an analysis was required to be performed to determine how these areas could be better reported. An assessment would need to be made if in fact these areas could be measured (and hence reported), which was undertaken in Part 2 of the thesis. The thesis revealed the need for improved CSR, and a greater degree of accountability and transparency by business that improved CSR could provide. It was argued that reporting, other than financial, which includes CSR should be prepared using a conceptual framework of principles, similar to that used in financial reporting, and thus a principle-based approach to CSR should be used as opposed to a rule based one. It was noted that such a principle-based approach would address many of the qualitative criticisms levelled against CSR practices, and current rule based systems. Using a systems based approach, a framework of interactions and impacts caused by businesses on social and physical systems was developed, which was used as the basis for a suggested CSR model. The model was validated using a peer and expert review process, and by comparison to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which was used to represent international and South African best practice. However, it was noted that potential measurement difficulties would be encountered if the proposed model were used. It would also need to be determined what practical barriers would exist to implementingthese CSR models in business, which was the objective of Part 3 of this thesis. When the practical implementation of a comprehensive CSR system was evaluated in industry, both the proposed model and the GRI were considered. An important part ofthe measuring process was noted to be company risk assessment, often undertaken by the company's insurers. Where environmental impacts, health and safety, or other potential impacts (e.g. accidents or spills in the transport industry having significant impacts on other road users), were noted to be a significant risk, measurement systems and control procedures had been put in place by most companies. Perhaps the most significant part of risk, besides the potential loss in earning capacity, is potential litigation. Common law litigation would encourage companies to monitor and protect the health of their workers and consumers. Legislation e.g. National Environmental Management Act and Air Quality Act, would encourage companies to monitor their environmental impacts. Thus a combination of risk and legislation encourages monitoring and measurement. The findings of the third part of the thesis suggest that increased pressure should be placed on companies to become IS014001 certified as this would facilitate increased CSR reporting, however, this in itself is unlikely to occur unless increased pressure is placed on companies by (legal of customer). The author suggests that IS014001 certification would be more effective in ensuring environmental protection, than simple CSR disclosure. Significant challenges exist to the possible implementation of many of the key areas identified in the proposed CSR model (specifically where measurement problems exist), and no companies were found to be in a position to report on these aspects comprehensively. The findings of this thesis include that existing legislation and financial imperatives influenced measurement and recording of certain impacts and influences. At the same time, many managers suggested that lack of financial (and other resources), as well as the absence of legal requirements were some of the reasons why other impacts and influences were not measured. Thus it could be concluded that legislation enforcing CSR, together with financial incentives (or penalties for failure to meet such standards), could play a significant role in improving CSR in South Africa.