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Multinationals’ Accountability on Sustainability: The Evolution of Third-party Assurance of Sustainability Reports

  • Paolo Perego

    ()

  • Ans Kolk

    ()

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    In this article we explore how multinational corporations (MNCs) adopt assurance practices to develop and sustain organizational accountability for sustainability. Using a panel of Fortune Global 250 firms over a period of 10 years, we document the diffusion patterns of third-party assurance of sustainability reports. We specifically investigate how evolving auditing practices, namely diversity of assurance standards and type of assurance providers, shape the quality of sustainability assurance statements. The results illustrate great variability in the adoption of assurance practices in the formative stages of this novel market. Our descriptive analysis indicates the relevance of external institutional pressures as well as internal resources and capabilities as underlying factors driving the adoption of assurance. Our evidence also suggests that several MNCs project a decoupled or symbolic image of accountability through assurance, thereby undermining the credibility of these verification practices. The paper contributes to the emerging literature on international accountability standards and emphasizes the need to enhance theory-based, cross-disciplinary knowledge related to auditing and accountability processes for sustainability. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10551-012-1420-5
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    Article provided by Springer in its journal Journal of Business Ethics.

    Volume (Year): 110 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 2 (October)
    Pages: 173-190

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    Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:110:y:2012:i:2:p:173-190
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=100281

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    1. Carla Rhianon Edgley & Michael John Jones & Jill Frances Solomon, 2010. "Stakeholder inclusivity in social and environmental report assurance," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 23(4), pages 532-557, May.
    2. Giacomo Manetti & Lucia Becatti, 2009. "Assurance Services for Sustainability Reports: Standards and Empirical Evidence," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 87(1), pages 289-298, April.
    3. Dima Jamali, 2010. "MNCs and International Accountability Standards Through an Institutional Lens: Evidence of Symbolic Conformity or Decoupling," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 95(4), pages 617-640, September.
    4. John Smith & Ros Haniffa & Jenny Fairbrass, 2011. "A Conceptual Framework for Investigating ‘Capture’ in Corporate Sustainability Reporting Assurance," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 99(3), pages 425-439, March.
    5. Javier Aguilera-Caracuel & Juan Aragón-Correa & Nuria Hurtado-Torres & Alan Rugman, 2012. "The Effects of Institutional Distance and Headquarters’ Financial Performance on the Generation of Environmental Standards in Multinational Companies," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 105(4), pages 461-474, February.
    6. Beyer, Anne & Cohen, Daniel A. & Lys, Thomas Z. & Walther, Beverly R., 2010. "The financial reporting environment: Review of the recent literature," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(2-3), pages 296-343, December.
    7. Power, Michael, 1997. "Expertise and the construction of relevance: Accountants and environmental audit," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 123-146, February.
    8. Pierre-Yves Néron, 2010. "Business and the Polis: What Does it Mean to See Corporations as Political Actors?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 94(3), pages 333-352, July.
    9. Dong, Minyue & Stettler, Alfred, 2011. "Estimating firm-level and country-level effects in cross-sectional analyses: An application of hierarchical modeling in corporate disclosure studies," The International Journal of Accounting, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 271-303, September.
    10. O'Dwyer, Brendan & Owen, David & Unerman, Jeffrey, 2011. "Seeking legitimacy for new assurance forms: The case of assurance on sustainability reporting," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 31-52, January.
    11. Magali A. Delmas & Michael W. Toffel, 2010. "Institutional Pressures and Organizational Characteristics: Implications for Environmental Strategy," Harvard Business School Working Papers 11-050, Harvard Business School.
    12. Kolk, Ans, 2010. "Trajectories of sustainability reporting by MNCs," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 45(4), pages 367-374, October.
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