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?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

There is another way: The Spirit Level goes viral!

This blog likes to highlight the use of novel and innovative communications techniques in SD related debates. The Equality Trust (a think tank founded by the authors of the Spirit Level) has come up with a fascinating collection of online videos designed to confront inequality in a thought-provoking way.

Framing environmental reponsibility, 1960s style

Last week in the UK, the excellent TV series Mad Men returned to our screens. Based on the advertising agencies of New York's Madison Avenue, the show offers an unflinching perspective on American values and society (as well as being a damn good ensemble-type show with a fantastic script and great actors).

As well as the compelling, if somewhat jarring portrayals of issues such as race and gender, the show has made the odd oblique reference to the environment - most notably in an earlier series where we see the model American family casually dispose of the unwanted remains of their picnic... by cheerfully tossing it away at the side of the road before driving off.

Putting to one side the more subtle symbolic aspect of this sort of scene (that the clean-cut image maintained by the characters conceals the awkward, messy reality of their private lives), it is interesting to consider the way in which environmental responsibility was framed in the 1960s. For example, a further irony of the picnic scene in Mad Men is that advertising was of course heavily used to 're-educate' Americans on the wrongs of littering - a notion captured neatly in the 'litter-bug' PR campaigns of the decade.

A rather less savoury fragment of 1960s advertising treatment of environmental issues can be found in this advert that appeared in Life magazine in 1962, which happily trumpets the scale of resource consumption in terms that would make even Tony Hayward shudder...

Launch of CSEAR Education Website

CSEAR's web-based resources for individuals interested in the area of accounting and SD now include an excellent new website specifically for educators. This new site has been created by Ian Thomson of Strathclyde University and Lorna Stevenson of Dundee University and features a wide range of resources including lecture materials, assessments, classroom exercises and module outlines. This is an outstanding resource which I hope anyone involved in teaching and learning in this area will make use of.

Corporate environmental disclosure in Zimbabwe

At the recent CSEAR conference in St Andrews, one of the perhaps less well-known individuals attending was Rodney Ndamba, a PhD student who is examining environmental reporting in Zimbabwe. To his credit, Rodney has also written a short article for the Financial Gazette, the most widely-read online Zimbabwean newspaper. It's good to see academics engaging with the wider media, but especially so in a Zimbabwean context.

Further reaction to integrated reporting and the establishment of the IIRC

The Murningham Post has an excellent article covering the range of reaction to the IIRC. It seems that academics are not the only stakeholders to feel somewhat excluded from the new committee - investors are upset too! I sense an opportunity for the most unlikely of alliances...

Integrated Reporting public consultation: Have your say

Accounting for Sustainability have launched a public consultation on the development of integrated reporting. This is an important opportunity to feedback to the newly formed International Integrated Reporting Committee. The survey is open until 30th September 2010.