Just Seventeen: Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting Is Still at a Formative Stage, and British Businesses Are Disclosing Differing Levels of Information in a Variety of Ways in the Absence of Mandatory Standards. Samuel Idowu and Brian Towler Study a Stream of Conscientiousness from 17 Companies to Compare How and What They Report

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Businesses around the world have recognised that they can gain enormous benefits if they are seen to be socially responsible. The corporate social responsibility (CSR) report is the medium that UK firms use to disclose their activities in this area, but what level of information do they communicate to the public?

In a recent study, we telephoned 30 companies with registered offices in the UK. Only 17 of them responded to our request for their latest CSR reports. From these, we noted that there were two distinct reporting practices. Seven of the firms issued a stand-alone document and the other 10 simply devoted a section of their main annual report and accounts to CSR (see table, page 27). Our analysis of each firm's disclosures is summarised as follows.

Balfour Beatty

The construction company has a stand-alone report of 40 pages divided into sections covering topics such as sustainability, health and safety, the environment and social issues.

It identifies 17 milestones that the group reached last year and a number of goals for 2003. Six of its operating companies achieved level four in the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents audit scheme (level five is the best). There were six fatalities across the group in 2002--one more than in file previous year--although safety training has been stepped up.

Balfour Beatty is listed on the Business in the Environment Index and several of its operating companies are now ISO14001-certified. The report states that the group is making more effort to ensure that it identifies all stakeholders and fulfils its responsibilities to them.

Barclays Bank

The bank's stand-alone report, which has been verified by SGS, an independent specialist in ethical auditing, starts by listing its 10 key CSR achievements in 2002. For instance, Barclays became the first UK bank to receive ISO14001 environmental certification; it set up a global diversity council to ensure equal opportunities in its operations worldwide; it offered employees in Botswana and Zambia free confidential HIV/Aids testing; and it reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 10.2 per cent in the UK.

Barclays has a director whose key responsibility is CSR. The bank is included in a number of external indices of responsible companies, including the Dow Jones Sustainability index, the Stoxx Sustainability index and FTSE4Good. It subscribes to the principles enshrined in the UN's universal declaration on human rights and the International Labour Organisatinn's conventions on minimum working age, health and safety, working hours and discrimination.

BG Group

The utilities giant includes its CSR disclosures within the annual accounts. It divides these into four sections: business principles; health, safety, security and the environment; HR management; and community involvement.

During 2002 BG received ISO14001 certification for its operations in Bolivia, Brazil, Egypt., Ireland, Northern Ireland, Trinidad & Tobago and the US (Phoenix, Arizona).

The report states that the group makes voluntary and contractual contributions to the communities it supplies, sponsors local groups and runs employee involvement programmes. BG operates a payroll giving scheme and also undertakes social impact assessments, develops community relationships and contributes to sustainable development programmes. The BG Energy Challenge, for instance, has raised more than 1 million [pounds sterling] for charities since its inception in 1996, and the company is also a member of Care International UK, a global humanitarian aid organisation.

Bradford and Bingley

The former building society devotes a three-page section in its annual report and accounts to CSR. This states that the company has adopted the Forge Group framework for CSR management and reporting for the financial services sector, as recommended by the British Bankers' Association. …