Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Corporate Social Reports vs Shadow Reports: How should we use accounting in contested arenas?

Elaine Cohen's CSR-Reporting blog has a nice article on Hershey's recent publication of their first CSR report. The report itself is rather unremarkable, but this is not the issue, however - far more interesting is the publication of a 'shadow report' by a coalition of NGOs in direct response to the Hershey report.

The blog article attempts to tease out the main areas of contention between these publications and rightly draws attention to the partisan nature of both reports, which, it is argued, undermines the credibility of both parties.

The Hershey report/shadow report illustrates how the communications tools and tactics of corporations and activist groups can sometimes appear remarkably similar.  For example, just as there is a growing activist literature focusing on ways to battle big business, so there is a corresponding corporate literature that offers almost exactly the same kind of help, but this time in fighting back against the activists.

However, the role of accounting, and especially social and environmental accounting, in these contested arenas is less well understood. If the tactical approaches of activists and corporations are converging, why do examples of shadow accounting such as the Hershey report remain relatively uncommon? Is the purpose of these reports to discharge accountability or to mobilise public opinion? What is an effective shadow report? And how can we encourage corporations to better respond to the concerns raised in shadow accounts?

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