Global goals offer clear objectives for corporate sustainability reporting, but challenges remain

Source: UNCTAD, 6 October 2016

The private sector has a significant role to play in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and with the establishment of the SDGs in November last year, the accounting community now have a clear set of goals for their reporting on corporate sustainability. But incorporating social and environmental factors into global corporate accounting remains a sizeable challenge, said UNCTAD Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, who welcomed collaboration between the international development and accounting communities.

“Corporate sustainability reporting can be a powerful tool to measure the contribution of business towards the SDGs,” he said on Tuesday at an annual meeting in Geneva of accountancy experts from all around the world. Hosted by UNCTAD, the meeting runs October 4 to 6.

The experts are all members of the Intergovernmental Working Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting (ISAR), the UN body for accounting and corporate governance matters.

Hosted at UNCTAD, ISAR assists developing countries, and economies in transition, to implement best practices of accounting and corporate governance.

“ISAR continues to be an important partner for our efforts to mobilize public and private involvement with sustainability reporting and to achieve the SDGs,” Dr. Kituyi said.

He noted the tremendous challenge of going from single-issue financial reporting to reporting with social, environmental, and other sustainability factors.

Dr. Kituyi noted four main tasks:

  • To adopt a “multi-stakeholder” approach that reaches beyond the accounting community and include players from policy communities at national, sub-national and international levels
  • To ensure coherence between financial, economic, social and environmental policies
  • To harmonize standards and indicators with an integrated framework
  • To provide a worldwide structure that will help small and medium enterprises to comply with standards and indicators

“It is not easy to set these standards, but it is more difficult to implement them, especially in developing countries,” Dr. Kituyi said. “Many countries lack the knowledge and institutions to cope with implementation.”

Accountancy and development communities must find “new synergies” to overcome these challenges, said Dr. Kituyi, who signed a Memorandum of Understanding between UNCTAD and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC).

IFAC President Olivia Kirtley said the agreement was the culmination of a long relationship with UNCTAD and that she looked forward to a fruitful collaboration in the future.