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Tamed Transparency: How Information Disclosure under the Global Reporting Initiative Fails to Empower


  • Klaus Dingwerth

    (Klaus Dingwerth is Assistant Professor of international relations at the University of Bremen, Germany and a Senior Research Fellow with the international Global Governance Project ( ). He is the author of the monograph The New Transnationalism: Transnational Governance and Democratic Legitimacy (2007). Recent articles include "Private Transnational Governance and the Developing World: A Comparative Perspective" (International Studies Quarterly 52 (3)); "World Politics and Organizational Fields: The Case of Transnational Sustainability Regulation" (European Journal of International Relations 15 (4), with Philipp Pattberg); and "Global Governance as a Perspective on World Politics" (Global Governance 12 (2), with Philipp Pattberg).)

  • Margot Eichinger

    (Margot Eichinger is a graduate student at the University of Bremen and at the Jacobs University Bremen, Germany.)


In this contribution, we explore the tensions that seem inherent in the claim that transparency policies "empower" the users of disclosed information vis-àvis those who are asked to provide the information. Since these tensions are particularly relevant in relation to voluntary disclosure, our analysis focuses on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as the world's leading voluntary corporate non-financial reporting scheme. Corporate sustainability reporting is often hailed as a powerful instrument to improve the environmental performance of business and to empower societal groups, including consumers, in their relations with the corporate world. Yet, our analysis illustrates that the relationship between transparency and empowerment is conflictual at all four levels of activity examined in this article: in the rhetoric and policies of the GRI as well as in the actual reporting practice and in the activities of intermediaries in response to the organization's disclosure standard. (c) 2010 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Suggested Citation

  • Klaus Dingwerth & Margot Eichinger, 2010. "Tamed Transparency: How Information Disclosure under the Global Reporting Initiative Fails to Empower," Global Environmental Politics, MIT Press, vol. 10(3), pages 74-96, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:glenvp:v:10:y:2010:i:3:p:74-96

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    Cited by:

    1. Gunnar Gutsche & Bernhard Zwergel, 2016. "Information barriers and SRI market participation – Can sustainability and transparency labels help?," MAGKS Papers on Economics 201624, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).
    2. Niklas Egels-Zandén & Niklas Hansson, 2016. "Supply Chain Transparency as a Consumer or Corporate Tool: The Case of Nudie Jeans Co," Journal of Consumer Policy, Springer, vol. 39(4), pages 377-395, December.
    3. Patten, Dennis M. & Zhao, Na, 2014. "Standalone CSR reporting by U.S. retail companies," Accounting forum, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 132-144.
    4. Petr Petera & Jaroslav Wagner, 2015. "Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and its Reflections in the Literature," European Financial and Accounting Journal, University of Economics, Prague, vol. 2015(2), pages 13-32.
    5. Rea Wagner & Peter Seele, 2017. "Uncommitted Deliberation? Discussing Regulatory Gaps by Comparing GRI 3.1 to GRI 4.0 in a Political CSR Perspective," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 146(2), pages 333-351, December.
    6. Shane M. Dixon & Cory Searcy & W. Patrick Neumann, 2019. "Reporting within the Corridor of Conformance: Managerial Perspectives on Work Environment Disclosures in Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(14), pages 1-20, July.
    7. Bozzolan, Saverio & Fabrizi, Michele & Mallin, Christine A. & Michelon, Giovanna, 2015. "Corporate Social Responsibility and Earnings Quality: International Evidence," The International Journal of Accounting, Elsevier, vol. 50(4), pages 361-396.
    8. Rachel N. Birkey & Ronald P. Guidry & Mohammad Azizul Islam & Dennis M. Patten, 2018. "Mandated Social Disclosure: An Analysis of the Response to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 152(3), pages 827-841, October.
    9. Markus Milne & Rob Gray, 2013. "W(h)ither Ecology? The Triple Bottom Line, the Global Reporting Initiative, and Corporate Sustainability Reporting," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 118(1), pages 13-29, November.
    10. Suwina Cheng & Kenny Z. Lin & William Wong, 2016. "Corporate social responsibility reporting and firm performance: evidence from China," Journal of Management & Governance, Springer;Accademia Italiana di Economia Aziendale (AIDEA), vol. 20(3), pages 503-523, September.
    11. Gardner, T.A. & Benzie, M. & Börner, J. & Dawkins, E. & Fick, S. & Garrett, R. & Godar, J. & Grimard, A. & Lake, S. & Larsen, R.K. & Mardas, N. & McDermott, C.L. & Meyfroidt, P. & Osbeck, M. & Persson, 2019. "Transparency and sustainability in global commodity supply chains," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 163-177.

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