Research on CSR disclosure points to an increasing lack of completeness and decreasing amount of credibility in the information reported, as well as concerns about overall reporting practices. The aim of this paper is to investigate the (ab)use of three CSR reporting practices: the use of stand-alone reports, assurance, and reporting guidance. These practices may be the outcome of a substantive approach to CSR undertaken to carry out duties of accountability to stakeholders, or conversely they could represent symbolic actions intended to portray corporations as genuinely committed to CSR. Thus, we investigate the use of these three practices in relation to disclosure proxies that capture the quality of disclosure along three different yet complementary dimensions: the content of the information disclosed (what and how much is disclosed), the type of information used to describe and discuss CSR issues (how it is disclosed) and the managerial orientation (the corporate approach to CSR). We find that, on average, companies that use these practices do not provide a higher quality of information, which we interpret as evidence of a symbolic use of these practices. Nevertheless, for those companies providing performance-related disclosures, we obtain limited evidence indicating that disclosures by GRI followers are more likely to be balanced, comparable and precise. Overall, our evidence supports increasing scepticism about the use of CSR reporting practices as tools used to enhance perceived accountability.
- AF Accountability Sustainability and Governance
- Disclosure quality
- Legitimacy theory
- Reporting practices