'Comply or Explain' and the Future of Nonfinancial Reporting

39 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2017 Last revised: 17 Aug 2017

See all articles by Virginia E. Harper Ho

Virginia E. Harper Ho

City University of Hong Kong (CityU) - School of Law; European Corporate Governance Institute

Date Written: July 15, 2017


Although investor demand for material “environmental, social, and governance” (ESG) information that can be readily used in financial analysis continues to grow, many firms and their advisors have concerns about the potential costs and benefits of new disclosure mandates. This Article argues that a “comply or explain” approach to ESG reporting could be a more effective alternative to new line-item mandates, on the one hand, and reliance on voluntary ESG reporting on the other.

This Article first surveys empirical research across many of the jurisdictions that have implemented a comply-or-explain approach and finds that comply-or-explain principles have proven effective in improving corporate governance practices and enhancing corporate transparency, particularly in the markets that most resemble the United States. The Article then draws on this comparative experience to propose principles that could guide the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in incorporating a comply-or-explain approach to ESG reporting within the current U.S. financial reporting framework. It concludes by suggesting specific elements that could be incorporated in new ESG disclosure standards on a comply-or-explain basis.

Keywords: disclosure, nonfinancial, corporate governance, securities, comply or explain, metastudy, reporting, materiality, ESG, sustainability

JEL Classification: K22, M48, M14, G3, G38

Suggested Citation

Harper Ho, Virginia E., 'Comply or Explain' and the Future of Nonfinancial Reporting (July 15, 2017). 21 Lewis & Clark Law Review 317 (2017), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2903006

Virginia E. Harper Ho (Contact Author)

City University of Hong Kong (CityU) - School of Law ( email )

Li Dak Sum Yip Yio Chin Academic Building
83 Tat Chee Avenue
Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, Kowloon
Hong Kong

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.cityu.edu.hk/

European Corporate Governance Institute ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

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