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The shifting sands of transparency: Sustainability reporting in New Zealand

By 2013, nearly 95% of the 250 largest companies in the world, and 71% of the top 100 companies across the Asia Pacific region used sustainability reporting as a tool to inform and manage the impacts of their activities on society, the environment, and the economy. There are now over 400 sustainability reporting instruments being used in 64 countries, 80% of which are introduced by governments. However, by the end of 2013, only 17% of the top 100 companies in New Zealand were providing a corporate responsibility report and, by the end of 2017, this number had not grown much. This is particularly significant when sustainability reports are widely viewed as a proxy for corporate transparency. This thesis examines the ways in which some of the largest companies in New Zealand perceive and react to stakeholders’ expectations for non-financial disclosure, and the factors that may have caused the current lack of sustainability reporting in this country. It also looks critically into the relative power of shareholders and other stakeholders to influence the publication of sustainability reports. The thesis draws on a theoretical framework that combines Mitchel, Agle, and Wood’s (1997) Salience Model with Zygmunt Bauman’s (2000) concept of liquid modernity, to explain how different stakeholders have different impacts on target companies, and why that differentiation tends to run counter to theoretical, market based expectations. Twenty-eight interviews, including those with key representatives of 21 public companies (reporting and non-reporting), and seven sustainability professionals, were the primary sources of data. Secondary data was gathered from the participating corporate reports, reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), government regulations in New Zealand, and formal organisational documents, policies, and regulations. This study applies thematic analysis to identify the most important themes to emerge from the interview transcripts and other documents. The results of the study demonstrate how leading corporations in New Zealand perceive different stakeholder groups and their expectations, and how that perception affects the way they publish corporate reports. While some companies view the lack of stakeholders’ expectation as a barrier for non-financial reporting, the findings of this study suggest that there may have been little to no communication between these organisations and their stakeholders in practice, and that, therefore, company perceptions may have little substance.
Type of thesis
Yaeghoobi, E. (2018). The shifting sands of transparency: Sustainability reporting in New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12118
The University of Waikato
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