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Prison break from financialization: the case of the PRI reporting and assessment framework

Diane-Laure Arjaliès (Ivey Business School, Western University, London, Canada)
Daniela Laurel-Fois (IESEG School of Management, Lille, France)
Nicolas Mottis (Ecole Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 26 August 2022

Issue publication date: 27 March 2023




This article seeks to unravel the mechanisms through which financial actors agreed upon a sustainability accounting standard without financializing social and environmental issues, i.e. assigning a monetary value to sustainability.


The article examines the Reporting and Assessment Framework created by the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN-PRI), the leading reporting sustainability framework in the asset management industry. It relies on a longitudinal case study that draws upon interviews, participant observation, and archival data.


The article demonstrates that the conception of the framework was a funnelling process of sustainability valuation comprising two co-constituted mechanisms: a process of valorization – judging what is deemed of value – and a process of evaluation – agreeing on how to assess value. This valuation process was unfolded by creating the framework, thanks to two enabling conditions: the creation of non-prescriptive evaluative criteria that avoided financialization and the valuation support of an enabling organization.


The article helps understand how an industry can encompass the diversity of motives and practices associated with the adoption of sustainability by its economic actors while suggesting a common framework to report on and assess those practices. It uncovers alternatives to the financialization process of sustainability accounting standards. The article also offers insights into the advantages and inconveniences of such a framework. The article enriches the literature in the sociology of valuation, financialization, and sustainability accounting.



The authors would like to thank the interviewees. In addition to being important and active decision-makers in the industry, the interviewees the time, effort, and insights that formed the basis for this study. In addition, the authors thank Natalie Beinisch, Natasha Buckley, Andreas Hoepner, Mandy Kirby and Katherine Ng from PRI for facilitating access to interviewees and opening their doors to us. The authors also thank Editor Lee Parker and the two anonymous reviewers for their patience and constructive and insightful feedback over the process of revision. Without their support, the COVID-19 pandemic would have certainly put an end to this article. The first author acknowledges that she has been a member of the academic network advisory committee of the PRI since 2017. The second author acknowledges funding from HEC Paris Research Center for Society and Organizations and a research grant awarded by the French Social Investment Forum (FIR) and the PRI. The authors’ opinions should not be ascribed to those who have participated in this research process.


Arjaliès, D.-L., Laurel-Fois, D. and Mottis, N. (2023), "Prison break from financialization: the case of the PRI reporting and assessment framework", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 561-590.



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