- U.S., Canadian and Australian companies had high scores for disclosures related to corporate governance
- But European companies led in transparency on environmental and social issues
- The highest-scoring sectors were telecommunication services and utilities
- This is an in-depth study on sustainability and transparency practices around the globe
Disclosure of financial information is obligatory for all companies listed on the main global stock exchanges. This information generally provides a good overview of a company’s financial performance, but it is not enough to make a decision about a company’s sustainability, which is linked to long-term operational and financial stability. Even companies with low levels of debt and high profits may be subject to potential risks from non financial areas such as environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. For instance, companies that do not embed human rights in their day-to-day activities may face less productivity and a higher chance of strikes, which can bring additional risks to investors. Similar problems may arise when a company does not apply solid environmental or governance practices.
The growing concern among investors about ESG issues has caused many companies to report information concerning their ESG-related indicators in the form of social reports, additions to their annual reports, special sections on websites and press releases. This information helps investors better evaluate companies’ risks and find possible ways to mitigate them. Yet, disclosure of such information is mostly voluntary among companies. In a report published by S&P Dow Jones Indices in cooperation with RobecoSAM, they analyzed to what extent companies from the headline indices disclose information concerning ESG activities. Companies studied include constituents of the S&P 500, S&P Europe 350, S&P/ASX 200, S&P/TSX 60, S&P/TOPIX 150, S&P Asia 50, S&P Latin America 40, S&P Korea LargeMidCap, and a number of additional companies from China and India. The disclosure records were provided by RobecoSAM.
These are the key findings (the complete report is attached)
- The average level of transparency of the 1,504 companies included in the assessment in 2013 was 45, which is below the 0-100 range’s mean. The average score for disclosures related to corporate governance was 81, while the average score for the environmental component was 40 and the average score for the social component was 33.
- The companies in the S&P Europe 350 had the highest average ST&D score among all the other headline indices from S&P Dow Jones Indices (average score of 63). The S&P Europe 350 was also the only index in which the average scores for all three components of assessment (environment, social and corporate governance) exceeded the 50-point average level range.
- The research demonstrates significant differences in disclosure levels across regions. Companies in the U.S. index (the S&P 500),the Canadian index (the S&P/TSX 60) and the Australian index (the S&P/ASX 200) had veryhigh scores for disclosures related to corporate governance. However, their scores for disclosures of environmental and social components were much lower than those of Europe’s largest companies. European companies led in transparency on environmental and social issues. Companies in the Korean and Japanese indices, the S&P Korea LargeMidCap and the S&P/TOPIX 150, respectively, had high scores for disclosure of the environmental component, average scores for social component and the weakest of all scores for corporate governance-related disclosure.
- Scores for disclosures of environmental and social components were correlated. This implied that for most companies, it was rare that a company disclosed information about the environmental aspect of its business but did not disclose information about the social aspect (and vice versa). This correlation does not apply to disclosure scores for corporate governance. In other words, a company’s decision to disclose information about corporate governance is independent of its decision to disclose information about social or environmental aspects of its business.
- A company’s total ST&D score was strongly correlated with its market size, a relationship that applied across all geographies. So bigger companies tended to disclose more information: There was a significant correlation between a company’s size and its total ST&D score, which was clear on a regional level (see Exhibit 10). This correlation is likely explained by the fact that bigger companies tended to experience higher pressure from their shareholders and governments, so they disclosed more information. The correlation between a company’s size and its corporate governance disclosure score was generally less than the correlation between its size and scores for the other two components. This happened because the variance in scores for corporate governance was small, especially in jurisdictions where disclosure of significant parts of this information is required by the government.
- Companies’ ST&D scores did not change significantly over time once they reached the 70- to 90-point range. However, ST&D scores tended to increase if they were lower than 70 and decrease if they were higher than 90.
- Average scores for environmental and social components, when adjusted for changes in the scope of assessment, tended to grow over time. At the same time, scores for corporate governance generally stayed the same.
- Average ST&D scores of developed countries exceeded the average ST&D scores of countries with emerging economies, but not significantly (46 vs. 40, respectively). This was most likely caused by bigger assessment penetration in developed countries. Companies from developed economies were more transparent than their competitors from emerging countries; however, the gap decreased from 12% to 6% in the period from 2010 to 2013. Countries with emerging economies were worse in terms of all components, but the difference in scores for the social component was insignificant. In 2012, developing countries were also worse than developed countries from the lens of all criteria, and the difference in scores for the social component was much greater.
- The highest-scoring sectors were telecommunication services and utilities. These sectors’ profiles are likely attributable to the fact that in high-tech industries, the competition for investors’ capital is the greatest. Therefore, appreciation of shareholders’ interest in nonfinancial reporting is generally the highest.