The trend of integrated reporting practice in South Africa: ceremonial or substantive?

Mutalib Anifowose, Ahmed Haji Abdifatah*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose
The purpose of this paper is to examine the trend of integrated reporting (IR) practice following the introduction of an “apply or explain” IR requirement in South Africa. In particular, the authors examine whether the IR practice is ceremonial or substantive in the context of a soft regulatory environment.

Design/methodology/approach
By way of content analyses, the authors examine the extent and quality of IR practice using an IR checklist developed based on normative understanding of existing IR guidelines. The evidence is drawn from 246 integrated reports of large South African companies over a three-year period (2011-2013), following the introduction of IR requirement in South Africa.

Findings
The results show a significant increase in the extent and quality of IR practice. The findings also reveal significant improvements in individual IR categories such as connectivity of information, materiality determination process and reliability and completeness of the integrated reports. However, despite the increasing trend and evidence of both symbolic and substantive IR practice, the authors conclude that the current IR practice is largely ceremonial in nature, produced to acquire organisational legitimacy.

Practical implications
For academics, the authors argue that there is a need to move away from the “what” and “why” aspects of the IR agenda to “how” IR should work inside organisations. In particular, academics should engage with firms through interventionist research to help firms implement integrated thinking and substantive reporting practices. For organisations, the findings draw attention to specific aspects of IR that require improvement. For policymakers, the study provides evidence based on the developmental stage of IR practice and draws attention to certain areas that need clarification. In particular, the International Integrated Reporting Council and Integrated Reporting Committee of South Africa should provide detailed guidelines on connectivity of information, material issues and disclosure of multiple capitals and their trade-offs. Finally, for educators, in line with the ACCA’s embedment of IR in its accounting courses, there is a need to incorporate IR in the curriculum; in particular, the authors argue that the best way to advance IR is in a “ubiquitous” spread in accounting and management courses.

Originality/value
This study provides empirical account of IR practice over time in the context of a regulatory IR environment. The construction of an IR checklist developed based on normative understanding of local and international IR guidelines is another novel approach of this study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-224
Number of pages34
JournalSustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal
Volume7
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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