FRIDAY 10 NOV 2023 3:45 PM


Amid frustrations over the lack of news on the government's corporate governance reforms this week, Workiva’s Amplify 2023 conference showed that ESG and sustainability reporting remain top of the agenda for governance experts.

Since the collapse of Carillion in 2018, ambitious plans for corporate governance reforms have been promised, planned, delayed and watered down. Anticipated changes to the UK’s audit and corporate governance regimes, which included an overhaul of the "ramshackle" Financial Reporting Council (FRC), were missing from the King’s Speech on Tuesday, causing exasperation among corporate governance experts. 

The Conservative government’s plans were aimed at overhauling three key areas: the responsibilities of company directors, the audit industry and the FRC accounting regulator.

Many of the planned changes to the FRC, which included increased requirements for diversity reporting and new audit committee responsibilities for environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been abandoned in favour of protecting "competitiveness". Despite this, Workiva's Amplify conference, held in Amsterdam this week, proved that ESG and integrated reporting are still high on the agenda for governance experts. 

In a panel discussion on ESG and integrated reporting however, World Benchmarking Alliance chairman, Paul Druckman, described how its newly-launched 'Nature Benchmark' shows companies are not yet driving social change.

The benchmark measures how companies are reducing their negative impacts on nature and ranks them accordingly. Its October results show only 2% of the biggest 350 companies in the world currently disclose their environmental impacts, and 0% explicitly acknowledge their dependencies on nature. Unilever, for example, was far from meeting sustainability standards with a score of just 52 out of 100. The highest ranking company was Nestlé, with a score of 54.1. 

These findings are despite the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer showing that business is the only institution viewed as ethical by the general public. 

"There is so much talk from the investment community about sustainability, but not enough thinking about they themselves are doing," observed Druckman. The World Benchmarking Alliance's Financial System Benchmark found that only 20% of institutions publicly acknowledge their impact on people and the planet. 

Joining Druckman on the panel was Paul Dickinson, founder of not-for-profit CPD. "A joke I often make is that you can’t fix a sustainability crisis by using Microsoft Excel,” Dickinsons quipped. "You need to choose a platform - such as Workiva or another - that works for you." 

Dickinson went on to equate the role of corporate reporting for society to that of an X-ray machine for an unwell individual: "Corporate reporting helps us identify the issues but, continuing the analogy, this can't be fixed without 'lifestyle changes'," he said. "And by that, I mean policy change." 

Druckman captured the mood of the Workiva conference by finishing: “This isn’t about integrated reporting but integrated thinking.”