Non-reporters: Don’t have to, don’t want to, don’t need to

In the U.S., their dissemination is advancing in leaps and bounds. In the responsibility framework of the European industrial landscape, sustainability and CSR reports have been a permanent fixture for years. Even in the booming regions of Brazil and India, companies are now vying for recognition in corporate responsibility reporting. No company seems to be able to escape the expectations on the global capital, sales and procurement markets for comprehensible and credible documentation of its responsibility practices. No company? Wrong! We are talking about non-reporters.

These are thoroughly successful, respectable companies. Sometimes they even are listed on the stock exchange, that do not want to follow the reporters’ bandwagon. One in four of the 150 largest German companies alone does not publish any separate information on sustainability issues. This is made clear by the IÖW when it presented its latest ranking at the end of February. In the insurance, logistics and trade sectors in particular, social and ecological issues seem to play no role. Little movement in the land of diligent model reporters.

How valid are the reasons given by non-reporters?

If you ask why, similar explanatory patterns have been cropping up for years: There are costs associated with the annual preparation of a sustainability report, the associated collection of data and the ongoing maintenance of reporting. At least, these are frequently cited by companies as reasons for a lack of sustainability reporting (PwC).

Another reason frequently cited in the past – unclear practical implementation due to a lack of standards – has probably been resolved with the successful establishment of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting framework. Indeed, its introduction at the beginning of the millennium has been accompanied by a significant increase in global reporting publications.

A major counter-argument, which persists to this day, seems to be the lack of tangible demand from relevant stakeholders. This is an argument that cannot be completely dismissed from the point of view of communications policy. Why should I confront apparently satisfied stakeholders with a behavior that apparently does not interest them? In the end, I wake sleeping dogs and perhaps even make myself a target for NGOs.

No one can get around reporting

And yet, one should not underestimate the parallelogram of forces of change. If investors were offered warrants on the entry of these companies into reporting, they would be in high demand. There is a current of change in economic history whose viscous force eventually carries everyone along. If customer demand fails to trigger the reporting impulse, the first report from a competitor does, or the drop in applicant numbers following allegations of bullying and conflicts with the union.

For almost ten years, the management of a well-known large company refused to publish an environmental report against the advice of the head of communications and the specialist department. After the generational change at the top, the first meeting on the subject of communications came up with the following question: “I would like to learn something about your priorities. Why don’t we actually have a sustainability report until today?” Remember: At some point, even non-reporters find their way into reporting. Even if the reports may already be called something else by then.

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