The Transparency Trap: Non-Financial Disclosure and the Responsibility of Business to Respect Human Rights
50 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2019 Last revised: 28 Apr 2019
Date Written: May 12, 2018
This article examines the potential for transparency programs to improve corporations’ human rights performance. The primary focus is on “general” transparency programs, such as the inclusion of human rights issues in sustainability reports. Regulators increasingly rely on such programs, such as through the EU Directive on the Disclosure of Non-financial Information, which many commentators view as a model for legislation in other countries and for a business and human rights treaty. This article identifies several problems with this approach. The human rights metrics used in current sustainability reporting standards, and in practice, often lack validity or are based upon data that is most easily collected, rather than most important. Moreover, the empirical evidence on sustainability reporting shows continued problems of selective disclosure, impression management, incomparable disclosures, and the use of disclosure as an end in itself (as opposed to a process that leads to organizational change). To move forward, regulators should shift focus to a model grounded in regulatory pluralism. Under this approach, regulators would combine a selection of targeted transparency mechanisms to create a more complete regulatory system that corrects for one disclosure mechanism’s weaknesses by including other mechanisms that have complementary strengths.
Keywords: Transparency, Business and Human Rights, Sustainability Reporting, Nonfinancial Reporting, Nonfinancial Information, Corporate Social Responsibility
JEL Classification: M14, K38, K29, K20
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation