- Globalization and the associated growth in competition
- Increased size and influence of companies
- War for talent, companies competing for expertise
- Increased importance of intangible assets
1. Improved Financial Performance:
While it remains difficult to determine a direct causal relationship between increased accountability and financial performance, a variety of studies suggest that such a link exists. For example, according to 2002 Global Investor Opinion Survey released by McKinsey & Company, a majority of investors are prepared to pay a premium for companies exhibiting high governance standards. Premiums averaged 12-14 percent in North America and Western Europe; 20-25 percent in Asia and Latin America; and over 30 percent in Eastern Europe and Africa. The study also found that more than 60 percent of investors state that governance considerations might lead them to avoid individual companies with poor governance.
2. Heightened Public Credibility:
Companies that demonstrate a willingness to provide information that is credible, verifiable, and accessible can garner increased trust among stakeholders. Forthright and candid reporting about company achievements as well as performance shortfalls helps companies create a public reputation for honesty. At the same time, companies that make a public commitment to increase accountability and transparency need to ensure that they have robust systems for implementation, lest the company risk negative public backlash for failing to live up to its commitments.
3. Reduced Costs:
The enhanced communication that is often part of corporate accountability efforts can help build trust between companies and stakeholders, which can reduce costly conflict and improve decision-making. Companies that proactively and effectively engage shareholders and address their concerns can reduce the costs associated with shareholder proposals. In addition, social and environmental reporting efforts can help identify the effectiveness of various programmes and policies, often improving operating efficiencies and reducing costs. Reporting information can also help identify priorities to ensure that company is achieving the greatest possible impact with available resources.
4. Increased Attractiveness to Investors:
Investors — whether shareholders invested in socially responsible funds that screen companies for social and environmental attributes, or large institutions — welcome the increased disclosure that comes with corporate accountability. A growing number of investors are including non-financial metrics in their analysis of the quality of their investments. New metrics cover labour and environmental practices; board diversity, independence, and other corporate governance issues; and a wide variety of other social and environmental criteria. Research suggests investors may be willing to pay higher prices for the stock of companies considered to be accountable. For example, a 2000 survey of 200 large institutional investors conducted by McKinsey & Co., the World Bank, and Institutional Investor’s regional institutes found that three-quarters of stackholders consider board practices as important as financial performance when evaluating companies for investment. The study also found that more than 80 percent of investors would be willing to pay more for the shares of a well-governed company than for a poorly governed company with comparable financial performance.
5. Improved Relationships with Stakeholders:
Companies that make an effort to be transparent and accountable for their actions and decisions are better able to build trust among their stakeholders. This engagement helps companies understand how community groups and other stakeholders perceive them, and educates them about future issues and concerns that may affect their operations. The information gained can help companies better define priorities and ensure business activities align with professed business principles or ethical codes. Many government agencies and stakeholders look favourably at companies that self-identify and publicly disclose accountability challenges and demonstrate that they are working to solve them. Best practice solutions include the development of management systems that reduce the likelihood of recurrence.
6. Early Identification of Potential Liabilities:
The strategic information that can come from efforts to develop a more accountable company — including social and environmental auditing and reporting and stakeholder dialogue — can identify practices or situations that could pose liabilities to a company. Early identification can provide companies with the opportunity to resolve problems before they result in costly legal actions or negative public exposure. Issues that might surface more quickly in an accountable company include: environmental problems that could endanger public health, workplace discrimination or harassment that could result in lawsuits, marketing practices that do not price products or services equitably, or hiring practices that inadvertently give unfair advantage to certain populations. Social and environmental auditing and reporting can also identify where company practices may be in violation of government regulations or the standards or expectations of key stakeholder groups.
7. Marketplace Advantages:
Accountability can make entry and success in new markets easier by helping establish direct relationships with key customers and business partners. These relationships can contribute to innovation in product development or delivery, help mitigate potential negative media coverage, and enhance market presence. Some companies have used dialogue with stakeholders to help make decisions on overseas investments and operations, or to overcome the challenges of operating in markets with different cultures, laws, and languages. For example, Unilever’s Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Lever, has worked with local stakeholders to develop a new delivery system for laundry detergent in Indian villages. The company was experiencing difficulty in selling its product until it was suggested by stakeholders that the company package its product in single-use quantities that would be affordable to local residents with limited disposable incomes.
8. Improved Overall Management:
Many companies that have developed clear CSR performance and accountability systems inside their organizations report experiencing an improvement in their management practices overall. Increasingly, companies are finding that the impact of systems designed to increase accountability for CSR performance is not limited to the CSR realm, but can also impact performance in other areas as the culture of the organization undergoes change. An analysis of Fortune 500 companies conducted at the Boston College, Carroll School of Management found that companies judged as treating their stakeholders well are rated by peers as also having superior management.
9. Improved Organizational Effectiveness:
The process of self-assessment and evaluation, which is part of increasing accountability can have beneficial impact on company operations. For example, social and environmental auditing and reporting give companies the opportunity to assemble and assess more comprehensive information on operations and impacts. This information can help coordinate and maximize efficiencies and collaborations across departments, facilities, and business units. Through this process, companies compile examples of successful programmes from various parts of their organizations and share the learnings throughout the company, leading to more effective and efficient policies and practices. Dialogue and partnerships with stakeholder groups can help companies build skills and competencies, or align company operations with overarching mission and values.
10. Decreased Risk of Adverse Publicity:
Accountable companies may be better prepared to address the concerns of customers or other stakeholders who might otherwise take negative action on social issues. For example, by engaging in a dialogue with stakeholders about their interests and concerns, and addressing those concerns in business implementation processes, companies may be able to head off or minimize the impacts of boycotts organized by consumer groups. Similarly, companies that proactively address the concerns of shareholders can reduce the risk of adverse publicity stemming from high-profile shareholder disputes.
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