Accountants Gear Up to Support New Reporting Guidelines

Global reporting guidelines to be issued this week provide timely new ways for accountants to help their clients as they battle a storm of public distrust caused by accounting scandals and workplace greed. Developed by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), these guidelines expand business reporting of corporate responsibility from environmental, health and safety matters to new frontiers involving social and ethical issues.

The initial impact will be felt most keenly by major accounting firms, who are monitoring the growth of corporate responsibility reporting and gearing up to provide services in this area. Examples:

  • A study by KPMG found that 45% of the Global Top 250 companies now provide these reports, up from 35% in 1999.

  • A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found 73% are now issuing or plan to issue a report, and 55% of those currently issuing a report are following the GRI guidelines. Most clients (89%) agree the area will receive even more emphasis over the next five years.

  • Deloitte already has a Web site devoted to the subject. Last month, the firm introduced a scorecard to assess the quality of companies' corporate responsibility reports. It plans to host a workshop in Johannesburg on September 2nd entitled, "When Trust is Challenged: Dilemmas and Opportunities in Corporate Transparency."

The expanded guidelines could not have arrived at a better time. There are as yet no authoritative pronouncements or endorsements by U.S. standard-setters, (i.e., the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the American Institute of CPAs). GRI's development work had a headstart because it was begun long before the start of the current crisis of confidence in business leaders. It was launched in 1997 as a joint initiative of the United Nations Environmental Program and the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES).

Perhaps because of the unusual source and evolution of the guidelines, the movement acquired a number of names over the years, ranging from triple-bottom line reporting or sustainability reporting to non-financial and corporate responsibility reporting. To help its members understand the movement, the AICPA recently published a primer of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that include a partial list of U.S. companies already reporting on corporate responsibility, along with an explanation of why the public accounting profession should get involved.

Download GRI's 2002 guidelines. The guidelines were released on August 31, 2002 at the World Summit in Johannesburg.

-Rosemary Schlank

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