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


  • Paolo Perego


  • Ans Kolk



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

Suggested Citation

  • Paolo Perego & Ans Kolk, 2012. "Multinationals’ Accountability on Sustainability: The Evolution of Third-party Assurance of Sustainability Reports," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 110(2), pages 173-190, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:110:y:2012:i:2:p:173-190
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1420-5

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    References listed on IDEAS

    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.
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    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. Kolk, Ans, 2010. "Trajectories of sustainability reporting by MNCs," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 45(4), pages 367-374, October.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. Gilbert, Dirk Ulrich & Rasche, Andreas & Waddock, Sandra, 2011. "Accountability in a Global Economy: The Emergence of International Accountability Standards," Business Ethics Quarterly, Cambridge University Press, vol. 21(01), pages 23-44, January.
    13. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Choon-Yin SAM & Paul N. C. TIONG, 2015. "An investigation of the corporate responsibility report assurance statements of the Big Four banks in Australia," Journal of Economics Library, KSP Journals, vol. 2(1), pages 3-14, March.
    2. Araya, Helena Maria Bollas & Mas, Elies Segui & Garrido, Fernando Polo, 2015. "Assurance on sustainability reports in the agri-food industry," Revista Española de Estudios Agrosociales y Pesqueros, Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Rural y Marino (formerly Ministry of Agriculture), issue 242.
    3. Vivek Soundararajan & Jill A. Brown, 2016. "Voluntary Governance Mechanisms in Global Supply Chains: Beyond CSR to a Stakeholder Utility Perspective," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 134(1), pages 83-102, March.
    4. Heejung Byun & Tae-Hyun Kim, 2017. "Identity Claims and Diffusion of Sustainability Report: Evidence from Korean Listed Companies, 2003–2010," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 140(3), pages 551-565, February.
    5. Mohammad Jizi & Aly Salama & Robert Dixon & Rebecca Stratling, 2014. "Corporate Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility Disclosure: Evidence from the US Banking Sector," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 125(4), pages 601-615, December.
    6. Claire Gillet-Monjarret & Isabelle Martinez & Géraldine Rivière-Giordano, 2015. "La perception des commissaires aux comptes français sur la vérification sociétale : une expérimentation," Post-Print hal-01188799, HAL.
    7. Sam, Choon-Yin & Tiong, Paul N. C., 2015. "An investigation of the corporate responsibility report assurance statements of the Big Four banks in Australia," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 3-14.
    8. repec:kap:jbuset:v:147:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s10551-015-2979-4 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. repec:kap:jbuset:v:144:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s10551-015-2862-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Deborah de Lange & Timo Busch & Javier Delgado-Ceballos, 2012. "Sustaining Sustainability in Organizations," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 110(2), pages 151-156, October.
    11. Omid Sabbaghi & Gerald Cavanagh, 2015. "Jesuit, Catholic, and Green: Evidence from Loyola University Chicago," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 127(2), pages 317-326, March.
    12. Jeffrey S. Harrison & Joyce van der Laan Smith, 2015. "Responsible Accounting for Stakeholders," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(7), pages 935-960, November.
    13. Olivier Boiral & Iñaki Heras-Saizarbitoria, 2017. "Managing Biodiversity Through Stakeholder Involvement: Why, Who, and for What Initiatives?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 140(3), pages 403-421, February.
    14. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:5:p:1591-:d:146591 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Elies SEGUI-MAS & Helena-Maria BOLLAS-ARAYA & Fernando POLO-GARRIDO, 2015. "Sustainability Assurance on the Biggest Cooperatives of the World: an Analysis of their Adoption and Quality," Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 86(2), pages 363-383, June.
    16. repec:eee:iburev:v:26:y:2017:i:6:p:1141-1156 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. David Talbot & Olivier Boiral, 2015. "Strategies for Climate Change and Impression Management: A Case Study Among Canada’s Large Industrial Emitters," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 132(2), pages 329-346, December.


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