Commander (Dr) RK Thomas, Rtd IN, CEO - Technopilot

Article on Sustainability Reporting and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – An Insider’s Perspective

1.   The Sustainability Reports of organisations make an interesting reading.  A thesis study was undertaken on where we are in terms of Sustainability Reports on a global level with more of an Indian perspective. To add impetus to the study, the reports of the several organisations was studied in detail to get an understanding on how different companies showcase CSR.

2.   One thing that was striking in all of the above reports which were vastly different – was Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity, Relevance & Logic. CSR seems to b the heart of every Companies’ mission now  to discover, develop and provide innovative products and services that save and improve lives around the world /  seek an equilibrium between people, planet and profit. Business pioneers are progressively understanding the need to incorporate ecological and social issues inside of the business technique. A rising pattern is the incorporation of Corporate Responsibility components, particularly environmental change, into the CEO motivation.  Sustainability reporting is picking up energy universally as an essential specialised apparatus for organisations to uncover their sustainability arrangements and execution and improve partner certainty. The reporting situation in India is still in incipient stage with several organisations uncovering their sustainability execution. All announce their administration angle under ‘Set of principles/Ethics’ and give the data on corporate administration as reflected in their yearly reports. Few organisations have endeavored to connection sustainability structure to corporate administration and less organisations have coordinated sustainability components in their risk management system. While huge number of people allude to ISO 9001 & ISO 14001 administration principles, just modest bunch organisations have a characterised part of inward review to audit the controls over non-budgetary information. This brings up issues over the quality and precision of the reported information and diagrams where noteworthy work should be done to make the reporting process more hearty. At the administrative level, different mandates have been issued and with some still in pilot stage. The Organisation of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) has set up the ICAI – Accounting Research Foundation (ICAI-ARF), which has embraced an rare venture to propose a suitable system for manageability reporting for Indian organisations. Further, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), Government of India in relationship with the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs has discharged the intentional rules on social, natural and monetary obligations of business. In the budgetary area, there is an unmistakable pattern to advance earth and socially capable loaning and speculation, with the Reserve Bank of India as of late issuing a document for highlighting part of banks in advancing economical improvement. Corporate obligation is here to stay and organisations have understood the estimation of grasping sustainability and all the more so making it a piece of their general business.

3.   My concepts in the study was undertaken graduating an ‘outsider’ as a retired Commander of the Indian Armed Forces, to an ‘Insider’ while exploring the gamut of Companies both Public and Private. I started off with what Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was according to me, Where I placed Indian companies with regards to my definition of CSR, What are the main features of responsible business, what is the driving force behind CSR / Sustainability, what are the significant trend shifts of this sector over the past five years, and how CSR or sustainability can be made attractive for businesses.

4.    There should be a single platform for NGO, Corporate and Government to prepare guidelines on CSR functioning and decide development projects for the country. The formation of a Comprehensive Development Forum (CDF) which will work for formation of guidelines for corporate houses for designing their CSR Programs is required. Besides, the effort should be made through this forum to ensure proper utilisation of the CSR funds and government funds for sustainable development. The gaps existing in policy formation and actual implementation in the field level. NGO and Civil Society should play a major role in influencing the policy on various developmental and welfare measures.

5.   Quality of CR reporting in India.     The average quality score for all CR reports is 42 out of a possible 100, indicating that there is a need to significantly improve the quality of CR reporting in India. (Survey 2014)

– IT companies have the best quality reports in India with an average score of 64, while the Pharmaceutical sector has the lowest average score of 20.

– Indian CR reports tend to have relatively better disclosures on the stakeholder engagement process and least disclosure on supplier and value chain impacts.

6.   IT leads in CR reporting rate, Financial Services left behind .    The IT sector is amid the foremost sectors in CR reporting with 100 % of N100 IT sector companies expansively reporting on CR through detached reports. Alternatively, financial services sector remains the key lagging sector. The sector is represented by 22 companies in N100, but only 13 per cent financial sector companies report using standard frameworks and none of the financial sector companies at length report on CR through separate reports.

7.   Several reporting frameworks, GRI most universally used.   Indian reporters implement diverse reporting frameworks to report on CR. Most frequently used reporting frameworks are GRI, CDP, UNGC- COP and NVG-SEE. Sector specific frameworks are also referred by Oil & Gas (IPIECA,API and OGP Oil and gas voluntary guidance on sustainability reporting), Metals and Mining (World Steel Association indicators, ICMM Sustainable Development Framework) and Building Materials (WBCSD, Cement Sustainability Initiative) sectors. GRI emerges as a widely accepted reporting framework among the companies using standard reporting frameworks with 64 per cent of such companies adopting the GRI reporting framework.

8.   High on Assurance.    Indian CR reporters have one of the maximum peripheral assurance rates. 81 % of N100 companies producing a separate broad CR report have recognised through external assurance an improved credibility of the information reported.

9.    Lucidity and Balance.    Clearness and balance in coverage on CR is imperative to construct stakeholder faith. A CR report should allow stakeholders to holistically evaluate the company’s CR risks, opportunities and performance to be able to make informed decisions. Transparent disclosure on challenges, dilemmas and failures renders balance to reporting.

10.  Latest Developments in India.  A committee set up by the MCA has suggested that smaller companies get greater operational flexibility for meeting their CSR obligations. The committee has also recommended placing of an ‘omnibus clause’, so that any procedures that serve public validation are covered as eligible CSR activities. It has also proposed a hike in the cap for administrative spends related to CSR activities. It has also ruled out a tough means for monitoring of CSR overheads by government agencies.

11.    Sustainability Reports are something you may like to dip into to get interesting perspectives in organisations. “There is no denying that it is true but there will always be a thin line between doing what you have to and what you want to”.