Belief in Business

Richard Howitt,  Chief Executive of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and member of the B20 Task Force on Energy, Climate and Resource Efficiency

A recurrent theme throughout this week’s OECD-B20-BIAC High Level Session on global economic governance was ‘disbelief’.

Policy makers are shocked by the fundamental challenge to their arguments for the benefits of international investment, free trade and open markets.

Populations in OECD countries and beyond were repeatedly said to be involved in a ‘backlash against globalisation,’ a populist revolt apparently sweeping the world.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría berated a growth in global inequality which he acknowledged dates back decades, but said makes the support for international collaboration by those of us in the B20 group of international business leaders at this time “not just welcome but indispensable.”

In the face of the debate about ‘fake news’ and attempts to dismiss all value in expertise, this week’s 300-strong global gathering heard a strong call from governmental representatives for the OECD to remain a ‘house of evidence.’

OECD Director of Trade and Agriculture Ken Ash accepted the challenge, but argued that in the current climate, aggregate statistics would not be persuasive. It is necessary to wage “granular arguments that work while having your hair cut or in the coffee shop,” he said.

In my own contribution to the session on responsibility, trust and inter-connectedness, I stressed that this same argument applies not just to governments and to international institutions, but to businesses too.

I explained how ‘Integrated Reporting’ and the ‘integrated thinking’ which accompanies it, provides this broader, connected and more accessible approach to business reporting.

It is our mission to make integration the global norm in corporate reporting, backed by some significant endorsements from G20 Governments, the United Nations and within the OECD itself.

The OECD Round Table on Sustainable Development welcomed the advances made in Integrated Reporting; the OECD Forum on Responsible Business Conduct called for its improved application; and currently the IIRC is assisting the OECD in its work on developing metrics which measure business impact on people’s well-being.

The G20 Summit in Germany later this year will be invited to endorse the Financial Stability Board Task Force, which itself recommends that climate risk is integrated in company financial planning and reporting.

The case for Integrated Reporting involves the transition to low carbon growth not simply being considered as a potential cost to business, but also as a potential source of value creation too.

We say the same of other ‘capitals’ all too often considered to be external to the company in the current short-term approach to financial reporting. People, ideas and societal relationships have an equal potential to contribute to business success with a broader, longer-term perspective.

The movement towards integration echoes the call at this week’s High Level meeting from the Chair of the Business and Industry Advisory Committee at the OECD, Siemens’ senior executive Klaus Moosmayer, who said the BIAC is championing a more ‘holistic’ approach.

“We need more lighthouse examples for good communication, not only talking about risks, but opportunities too,” he agreed.

“This has to apply to business communications too. We need more integrated policies,” added Ash.

For me, the call for ‘inclusive globalisation’ which promotes international cooperation, but seeks to ensure that the benefits which follow are equitably shared, has to be the right approach.

1 500 global companies are now choosing to ‘tell their story’ through an integrated approach.

It is reporting which is not simply an advertisement of their social responsibility.  Nor is it restricted to meeting the compliance requirements of the regulator.

Integrated Reporting is the intelligent way for companies to remain competitive in a new era, where investors perceive different long-term risks, in the world of ‘multi-capitals’ and above all of new citizen expectations.

This week the OECD said that the world must adapt to meet those new challenges.

I say that businesses must make a contribution to achieving that aim.

Useful links

The Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC)

B20 recommendations for G20 Sherpa Meeting

OECD and the G20

The IIRC is launching a two-month comment period aimed at listening to and learning from the market. They’re inviting public feedback until April 30 2017 on critical incentives and barriers to applying the International Framework. Click here for the “Invitation to comment”.

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