مبهم اما محدود : مبانی حسابداری برای گزارش دهی توسعه پایدار
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|275||2012||14 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Volume 23, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 93–106
Sustainability reporting continues to become more widespread, despite ambiguities underlying the concept that may lead to varied interpretations and wider scope for “managing public perceptions” (e.g., Cho et al., 2010 and Neu et al., 1998). An examination of the current form it takes using the GRI suggests a trade-off between principles and rules, with reduced emphasis on normative principles and a rather simplistic pursuit of “objective” measurement largely adapting to traditional accounting goals. While exploratory in nature, the paper suggests the need for “alignment” through an emphasis on principles based on normative stakeholder theory (Reed, 1999 and Reed, 2002) that can draw from accounting without usurping the stakeholder goals underlying sustainability. This normative approach adds to the discourse on sustainability accounting by envisaging a wider and more localized perspective on firm accountability that could potentially stimulate the innovative endeavors of the corporation in the pursuit of wider wealth creation.
Accounting for corporate social responsibility has been an area of contention that has endured neglect because of ambiguity, difficulty, or questions about the necessity for firms to emphasize such socially responsible behavior (e.g., Benston, 1982 and Friedman, 1970). Despite the skepticism that has characterized all aspects of social responsibility in the past, the relatively recent adaptation titled “sustainability” continues to grow in importance, if the research and developments in the area serve as indicators (e.g., Dillard et al., 2005, Lehman, 2004 and Unerman et al., 2007). The language of sustainability has also spread beyond the realms of researchers, public relations specialists, and writers to boardrooms and corporate offices. However, despite this extensive literature, there continues to be an evident lack of stability and clarity in the area (e.g., Bebbington, 2009). The intersection of the social and the organizational creates the concerns that make it important for disciplines such as accounting to play a role that is significant, nevertheless challenging. As articulated by Hopwood (1983): The social is not and cannot be isolated from the organizational. Indeed, in part at least, the social is manifest in the organizational and the organizational, in turn, constitutes a significant part of the social… with both wider and more localized concerns calling upon practices such as accounting to create an ambiguous but nevertheless tethered conception of reality (p. 302). A variety of factors shape the social world today, perhaps none as significantly as the growth of globalization under the influence of modern technology. After an initial sense of triumphal vindication of the free enterprise and free markets globally, the power of capital and the nature of business appears to be increasingly under scrutiny as global companies expand, seeking new markets, lower cost labor, raw materials and financial resources. There is the sense that free enterprise, left to itself, could engender more problems than it could resolve (Greider, 1997). Yet, rather than abandon the stimulant of free enterprise, there is a call to a form of “sustainable” capitalism, with the increased realization that ignoring such interests can be costly, given the new realities of communication and information dissemination. These have contributed to the voice of different stakeholders, including the NGOs who take up causes of stakeholders by managing and organizing dispersed and less powerful groups. Thus, despite skeptics and powerful lobbies, the idea of “sustainability” has taken root and increasingly become part of the language of large firms, being subsumed within corporate goals with the pervading “business case” approach to sustainability (e.g., Gray, 2010). Perhaps driven by the threats of litigation and the increased possibility of regulation, the pragmatism underlying capitalism may be opening new doors of dialogue and insights into consequences of corporate activity. Thus, as sustainability develops as a desirable and increasingly popular recourse for institutions, the need for accountability and transparency points to an increased role for accounting. Having evolved on a narrow path where the larger view is obscured and issues are now translated into “puzzles” to be resolved (e.g., Gray, 2002), accounting remains constrained within artificial boundaries of its own making that give the semblance of “objectivity,” but without the capability to address complex issues. Hence, unsurprisingly, the accounting for sustainability endeavor appears to be plagued by an overall lack of clarity of “what accounting looks like” at the organizational level (e.g., Gray, 2010), resulting in a diversity of opinions and approaches (Bebbington and Gray, 2001) and the recognition that we are “researching an unstable and moving set of practices” (Bebbington, 2009). In short, an ambiguity expressed through prevalence of conflicting viewpoints appears to pervade much of sustainability. This ambiguity that lies at the root of sustainability highlights the need for a “systemic” view of the issues (Gray, 2002), a view that is both “wide” and yet “local” as to sufficiently capture the “concerns” of society (Hopwood, 1983) shaped by the global nature of business. When such ambiguity is not addressed, sustainability endeavors are vulnerable to manipulation and adaption to variations such as a “business case” approach, which in form appears appealing, but in substance, may be capitulation to the pre-existing profit based approach, subsumed within the narrow “profitability” goals of the firm. Confronting ambiguities underlying sustainability is therefore a first step in developing a form of accounting for sustainability that is both transparent and does not revert to being another adaptation of the managerial capitalistic model. Using principles underlying normative stakeholder theory (Reed, 1999 and Reed, 2002), this paper suggests an alternative normative framework that provides the rationale to address rather than evade difficult and ambiguous situations. Specifically, the approach provides firms the lens to understand the global (or wider) and local issues when establishing ambiguous and often apparently conflicting stakes of stakeholders. Accounting for sustainability based on such principles begins with the recognition that transparency, an extension of the accounting principle of “completeness,” is more relevant than an “objectivity” that fails to reflect reality. An examination of the GRI sustainability framework serves to illustrate how sustainability, when not firmly grounded on principles, could lose sight of a normative sustainability narrative, and become subsumed within the “profit” goals of the firm. Thus, the paper asserts that a “systemic” view is the starting point to provide a basis to visualize accounting for sustainability, in order for key accounting components, concepts and semantics, measurement and corporate governance, to serve the goals of sustainability. To address the above objectives, the next section of the paper provides the theoretical base for understanding and implementing sustainability. Recognizing the ambiguity and constraints surrounding sustainability, this section proposes moral, ethical and legal principles underlying the normative stakeholder theory (Reed, 1999 and Reed, 2002) as the framework to provide a systemic view of the issues underlying sustainability, and to form the basis for sustainability accounting. The third section first provides a succinct description of sustainability efforts of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in integrating the accounting components that make accounting a discipline that lends credibility and direction, namely, concepts and semantics, measurement and corporate governance. To explore further the “reality” of sustainability, the section critically reviews sustainability efforts of GRI in the light of the normative sustainability principles. In comparison to traditional accounting, GRI appears to gravitate to greater “stakeholder inclusiveness.” On closer examination, however, sustainability principles are widely dispersed. Entrenched ambiguities remain, allowing firms to continue along the path of “impression management” (Cho et al., 2010 and Neu et al., 1998). The fourth section prescribes an emphasis on alignment of the framework, emphasizing a principles based approach to anchor the firm in the presence of ambiguities underlying the implementation of a transparent form of sustainability. Finally, the paper discusses the future and limitations, drawing on preceding analyses to show how the continued developments and future growth in sustainability depend on the convergence of factors that support its development.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
As the analysis above indicates, the GRI has made inroads into defining and promoting sustainability from a multi-stakeholder perspective. However, despite the elaborate preamble that holds promise for a revised view of sustainability, the outcome gravitates to a familiar version that makes objectivity from measurement an overwhelming focus, largely avoiding the ambiguity and conflict underlying sustainability, and allowing for the “business case” approach to sustainability which is no sustainability (Gray, 2010). The need for a reformation of capitalism that is built on a purely profit motive is at the core of sustainability, if business is to consider the responsibilities of operating in a multi-stakeholder environment from the normative perspective. Such reformation must be distinguished from the adaptation that capital has been adept at, often using a “public interest” canopy to disguise the true motives that hinge on a self-centered profit-orientation. The idea of the continuity of the firm in the context of “legal entity” is often at odds with the short- term perspectives of those who reside “behind the veil.” The challenge then lies in motivating “goal congruence” between the identity of the corporation as one in perpetuity, and its role in society that considers inter-generational equity in the spheres of economic, social and environment. This paper asserts that an inherent tension between the firm's goals of profit and the normative stakeholder perspective that views the goals of stakeholders as ends in themselves results in much of the ambiguity underlying sustainability. Further, the paper postulates that a principle-based approach, in contrast to the rule-based approach has the potential to bridge this gap such that the goals of a normative stakeholder perspective are aligned with that of the firm, where interests of stakeholders are not subsumed within the corporate pursuit of profit. Fundamental to this effort is clarity in understanding the nature of sustainability, with the wider and more localized views that help organizations see the issues not as leading to inevitable conflict, but rather as prioritization based on principles, leading to an increased transparency that leaves fewer avenues for “adaptations” to continue the status quo. While the larger content of the paper addressed the issues surrounding the substance of normative sustainability, accounting concepts provides the objectivity to such a system through meaningful measures, stakeholder engagement and governance processes that can be legitimately regulated and implemented. It is through this “tether” that normative sustainability, with the inherent ambiguities that could well gravitate to a tool for “impression management” goals of the firm, may be integrated into a component of business reporting where such firm achievements may be more objectively viewed from the perspective of social wealth creation. As has been emphasized, sustainability in a competitive environment driven by the profit motive exists on tenuous ground. While the discussions above are based on the premise of voluntarism and the general impression that firms may seek to increase legitimacy and emulate leaders in social responsibility when the guidelines are clearly set, such self-motivation may not occur naturally or become widespread without external stimulation. Specifically, while long-term benefits from sustainability may appear significant from a rational systemic perspective, short- term costs tend to be an impediment to the pursuit of that alternative. In fact, firms may not see the benefits or consider the benefits as sufficiently warranting the costs involved. Porter and van der Linde (1995) assert that “organizational inertia” may keep organizations from voluntarily adapting environmental sustainability goals. Further, Owen et al. (2001) in contrast, see the power differentials between firms and economically weak stakeholders as another factor that may restrict change. Thus, change may require harnessing external factors in addition to the internal voluntarism to bring about the necessary cohesion to bear on the implementation of sustainability necessary for any form of reformation of capitalism. Hopwood (1983), for example, point out that “wider social agencies, including those of the State, media and the professional institutions of the accounting craft” could “play a significant role in establishing a view of both the prevailing technical state of the accounting art and those of managerial practices which are regarded as legitimate and in order” (p. 301). Thus, while some form of regulation helps initiate implementation of sustainability on a wider scale, the inclusion of increased education and communication through the professional agencies adds another important element to aid in implementation, particularly in enabling NGOs and other stakeholders to understand and express the rationale of the sustainability framework that could drive motivation for change. To conclude, sustainability reporting, with the emphasis on voluntarism, is in a transition stage. Several factors could influence the outcomes as has been enumerated above. The premise of this paper is that alignment of accounting from a principles-based perspective can bring about deeper introspection and possible transparency in the internal workings of firms that may lead to individual firms increasing their sustainability endeavors with more effective and equitable outcomes. However, given that current forms of corporate behavior lie deeply entrenched, many would remain unconvinced and skeptical about outcomes. This paper postulates that continued debate and understanding of underlying issues are necessary for initiating change. Perhaps crucial to these endeavors is the retention of the most appealing of capitalism's traits, creativity and innovation, which when directed to increasing the congruence between social and business goals, could lead to greater optimism. In sum, where different disciplines and worldviews converge, this paper stands as another perspective among many to speak on a subject so nebulous, yet so critical for our times.