More transparency needed in European assurance reports

Source: Ernst & Young, 22 May 2008

Transparency in assurance reports on corporate responsibility disclosures can be greatly improved. Major differences in terms of topics discussed and the lack of information create confusion. This makes comparison between reports impossible, both those issued by auditors and those issued by non-auditors. In one-third of all reports, test criteria go unmentioned, as do the assurance standards used.

These are some of the conclusions Ernst & Young draws from its recent independent research. It reviewed 120 assurance reports on corporate responsibility reports of European businesses. In its review, Ernst & Young focused on aspects that are essential when providing assurance on a corporate responsibility report, such as scope, criteria, independence and assurance standards used.

An increasing number of businesses seek external assurance on their corporate responsibility disclosures from auditors, consultants or certification bodies. There is a high variety in assurance reports, partly because the assurance engagements differ, but most of all because their entire set-up differs, as well as the topics they discuss. “To find information about the assurance engagement, users depend on the information provided in the assurance report,” says dr. Nancy Kamp-Roelands, director at Ernst & Young and one of the researchers. “If you are open about the assurance process, you provide insight into the assurance report’s context and if you refer to the test criteria used, you contribute to the correct interpretation of the assurance conclusions.”

“The results of our research bear witness to the need for international generally accepted rules for this relatively new category of assurance, thus enhancing consistent evaluation of corporate responsibility reports,” says dr. Kamp-Roelands. In the Netherlands, the Royal NIVRA recently drafted a standard on providing assurance on corporate responsibility reporting, that enhances the transparency in assurance reports. Internationally, too, such added value ought to be realised, for auditors and non-auditors alike.

Download the report (pdf)