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User needs in sustainability reporting: Perspectives of stakeholders in Ireland

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2005
<mark>Journal</mark>European Accounting Review
Issue number4
Volume14
Number of pages29
Pages (from-to)759-787
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

By means of a questionnaire survey, this paper ascertains and analyses the views of a number of Irish stakeholders regarding the adequacy and potential of corporate sustainability reporting to meet their information needs and help them hold corporations to account. The study focuses on ascertaining the views of a sample of Irish social and environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), who we argue constitute an important group of non-financial stakeholders. This emphasis on examining NGO perceptions represents an attempt to fill a gap in the academic sustainability reporting research literature whereby the views of non-managerial stakeholders are largely absent. The paper represents the second phase of a determined effort to examine the adequacy of sustainability reporting from the perspective of less economically powerful stakeholders in Ireland and responds specifically to O'Dwyer's (2002) call for research to examine the nature of stakeholder demand for sustainability reporting in Ireland in order to inform the future development of Irish sustainability reporting practices. The results present evidence of a widespread demand for mandated, externally verified sustainability reporting in either the annual report or a separate stand-alone report. This demand is primarily driven by a desire to gain knowledge of companies' commitment to responsible business practices but is also, albeit to a lesser extent, influenced by the perceived ability of sustainability reporting to facilitate increased NGO pressure on companies. Current sustainability reporting practice is viewed negatively with regard to its credibility and sufficiency, as well as the opportunities it provides for engagement with companies, particularly among environmental NGO respondents. While respondents tended to be suspicious of corporate motives for sustainability reporting, many were optimistic about the potential for NGO engagement with companies aimed at tackling social and environmental issues and improving current sustainability reporting practice. Drawing on the survey results, the paper makes some recommendations for future research aimed at improving sustainability reporting practices in Ireland and more broadly. © 2005, Copyright European Accounting Association.