Communication is as old as mankind. It was the very first thing that happened between man and other creatures. Communication in its simplest form is known as the passing of information and understanding of such information being passed. The content of communication, its level of authenticity and reliability is of a major concern to recipients. Communication in the corporate world is both external and internal. While internal communication helps build organisational success on one hand, investors, business regulators, host communities, competition, public institutions and host of other stakeholders are much concerned about the contents and implications of external communication. Corporate reputation is keenly knitted with corporate communication. The challenge associated with it has berthed several business concepts, including the much-debated concepts of sustainability and corporate social responsibility report.
Sustainability dwells on three major pillars, namely: social, economic and environment. Sustainability is an important concept that is widely referenced and that has achieved broad support. Yet it remains inherently difficult to implement because of its complexity among communities, and the enormous shifts in thinking that it proposes in business parlance. The decision of business organisations and its operational impact on social life, economy and the environment is usually a source of concern to host and communities and other stakeholders. Although a corporate organisation is a legal entity, it cannot exist without the drive of human effort. It is the activities of humans in a corporate setting that are being subjected to presentation in the corporate social responsibility report.
Most organisations in Nigeria do not have an annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report. Pieces of their philanthropic gestures and other social behaviours are passed as news to newspapers, company’s website and other media platforms: they are documented or articulated in a single report. The importance of a co-ordinated reporting system with inherent advantages spurred the evolution of several reporting guidelines. The most popular among them today is known as the ‘Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Reporting Guideline.’
World Business Council for Sustainable Development (2002) defined Corporate Sustainability as: “The commitment of business to contribute to sustainable economic development, and to work with employees, their families, the local community and society at large to improve their quality of life.” Reports on the fairness of this definition, among others, influenced what is today known as Corporate Social Responsibility.
GRI is recognised as the standard for sustainability reporting. They are given as a practical manual outlining reporting principles, disclosure standards, and approaches to drawing up sustainability reports. Greater emphasis is laid on the materiality principle. The materiality principle states that reports should cover “aspects that reflect an organisation’s significant economic, environmental and social impacts; or substantively influence the assessments and decisions of stakeholders”. The Guidelines offer two options. They are the ‘Core’ and ‘Comprehensive options’. Both options can apply in an organisation of any type, size, sector, or location.
The business benefits of CSR
Some advocates of sustainability across the globe believe that integrated reporting is the way forward. CSR should not be viewed as a drain on resources. It is opined that carefully implemented CSR policies can help oragnisations to:
(a).Win new business
(b) Increase customer retention
(c) Develop and enhance relationships with customers, suppliers and networks
(d) Attract, retain and maintain a happy workforce, thus becoming an ‘employer of choice’
(e) Save money on energy and operating costs, and manage risk
(f) Differentiate self from other competitors
(g) Generate innovation, learning and enhanced influence
(h) Improve business reputation and risk management
(i) Ensuring cordial relationship with stakeholders
(j) Generate positive publicity and media opportunities due to media interest in ethical business activities.
How these potential benefits turn out for corporate organisations in Nigeria is a question for another day. During a visit to several companies, it was discovered that several private and public entities were yet to come up with a Corporate Social Responsibility Report. The reports of five corporate organisations domiciled in Nigeria were selected and previewed against compliance with the GRI reporting framework, dwelling on the adopted options – ‘Core’ and ‘Comprehensive option’ – irrespective of organisational structure, type, size, sector or location in the country. The selection was based on the organisations’ assertion and actual compliance with the framework, and ‘in accordance’ with the ‘Core Option’ of the GRI G4 guideline. The organisations are:
(a) The Nigeria Stock Exchange Sustainability Report 2015
(b) Access Bank Plc Sustainability Report 2015
(c) Etisalat Nigeria Sustainability Report 2015
(d) Seven Exploration & Production Ltd, Sustainability Report 2015
(e) Nigeria Breweries Plc Sustainability Report 2015.
The individual sustainability reports of the above organisation as at 2015 was prepared ‘in accordance’ with the Core Option principles of the GRI G4 guideline.
For example, the Access Bank Report 2015 was for January to 31st December, 2014. Material events up to July 26, 2015 have been considered. The bank, according to sources, adopted the guidelines of the AA1000 Assurance Standards, and the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. And, for the first time since 2008 it prepared the sustainability report in accordance with the GRI G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, Core Option.
These companies have independently practised and documented some form of corporate social and environmental responsibility on different projects, contributing to the well-being of communities and the larger society on which they depend.
•Nelson Obine can be reached via email@example.com