The purpose of this paper is to examine why companies assure some of the information found in their integrated reports, possible changes required to existing assurance practices and the motivation for either seeking to expand current technologies of assurance or to maintain the status quo.
The research is exploratory/interpretive. Data are collected from detailed interviews with preparers and assurance experts. Framing theory provides the data analysis framework.
Three broad views on assurance are identified. An expectation management perspective focusses on the role of assurance as a legitimisation tool and requires no changes to existing assurance standards. A value-adding perspective emphasises the role of assurance in improving the usefulness of information being reported to stakeholders and its function as part of a broader corporate governance system. This can evolve into a change-potential outlook in terms of which assurance is used to promote positive organisational change, something which may require the development of new standards/guidelines for assuring integrated reports.
Only preparers and assurance experts are engaged to explore the rationale for seeking to have parts of an integrated report assured. The views of the broader stakeholder community are not taken into account. The study is also limited to a single jurisdiction where integrated reporting practices are relatively well established.
Assurance of non-financial information cannot be understood only in terms of broad drivers such as firm size, environmental impact or listing status. It is inextricably linked with the perceived relevance of integrated (or sustainability) reporting and the value which assurance provides to an organisation and its stakeholders.
The study complements the mainly quantitative research on determinants of assurance of environmental or social disclosures. It is one of the few to provide primary evidence on the reasons for having these types of disclosures assured and how this informs the need for changes to existing assurance practices. The paper is also one of the first to deal with the assurance of environmental or social information in an integrated reporting context.
This work is based on the research supported in part by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant No. 118525). Special thanks go to Robert Garnett, Wayne van Zijl and Lelys Maddock for their invaluable feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks also to the participants at the Meditari Accountancy Research Conference (2016), especially Charl de Villiers, David Hay and Lee Parker for their sharing their views on an early version of this paper.
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