Evolving Norms of Corporate Social Responsibility: Lessons from the European Union Experience with Non-Financial Reporting
97 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 8, 2017
This article examines an important development in the field of corporate social responsibility, namely the adoption of a 2014 European Union Directive (“2014 EU Directive”) mandating non-financial reporting by certain large companies. Such disclosure has traditionally been provided by businesses on a voluntary basis, but the 2014 EU Directive reflects an emerging global trends toward mandatory reporting. Such trend emerged in response to the perceived low quantity and poor quality of information disclosed voluntarily on social and environmental topics of importance to corporate stakeholders. The author analyzes the history and development of policy and legislation on this issue both at the European Union level and within two Member States that have been leaders in the area of corporate social responsibility reporting, namely France and Denmark. Such analysis draws on literature from the fields of both law and business and is conducted within the larger frame of the global growth of non-financial reporting and the role that such reporting plays as a mechanism to enhance socially responsible behavior by business. An important feature of the 2014 EU Directive is its regulatory approach, which has been called a “smart mix approach” because it introduces an element of government regulation while still allowing businesses to make significant choices about disclosure on a voluntary basis. The author concludes that the 2014 EU Directive may result in a greater quantity of disclosure, but it may not be as successful in achieving the goal of improved quality of such reporting due to fundamental weaknesses in the regulatory approach and content of the 2014 EU Directive, as well as to the lack of preconditions in Member States needed for improved corporate transparency on social and environmental issues. The lessons from the European Union experience detailed in this article may prove useful for countries like the United States, where the development of non-financial reporting has lagged behind other countries.
Keywords: corporate social responsibility, non-financial reporting, European Union and corporate law
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