The quality of corporate reports on social responsibilities has improved, but those reports consistently fail to meet the expectations of a major target group: the financial services sector, with its associated analysts, investors and shareholders.
The Global Stakeholder Report 2005, a survey of 500 global readers of CSR reports from 58 countries conducted by international public relations firm Pleon (the European sister company of Brodeur Worldwide) found that financial services professionals consider CSR increasingly importat, they get the least from sustainability reports, primarily because the economic arguments for corporate sustainability and social commitments are not convincingly explained.
Mark Makepeace, chief executive of FTSE Group, says: “What analysts need is information and data that is material to a company’s business and is in context of the whole group’s activities.”
A minority of reporting companies is already aware of this shortcoming and is working to address it. Says Dr David Bickerton, head of external communications at BP: “BP’s research suggests that investors are becoming increasingly engaged with sustainability reports but want to see clearer linkages between the business strategy and sustainability issues. I believe many companies have struggled to make this linkage in the past.”
The report cites evidence that a number of other critical stakeholder groups don’t always find CSR reports credible so that many companies fail to achieve the desired objective of CSR reporting in the first place: to positively increase reputation and trust.
Generally, however, readers of CSR reports are more satisfied with the quality of reports than they were two years ago: 55 percent of respondents said reporting on social issues was either “fully” or “to some extent” in line with their expectations (an increase of 6.5 percent from 2003).
The most important issues of a CSR report, from a stakeholder perspective, are the management of human rights, eco- and energy efficiency in business operations, and health and safety of employees, each cited by about 60 percent of respondents. Surprisingly, “corporate citizenship”—defined as corporate giving, community involvement etc.—was ranked 27th out of 30 issues stakeholders consider important.