Article | Journal of Law & Economics | August 2011

Coming Clean and Cleaning Up: Does Voluntary Self-Reporting Indicate Effective Self-Policing

by Michael W. Toffel and Jodi L. Short


Regulatory agencies are increasingly establishing voluntary self-reporting programs both as an investigative tool and to encourage regulated firms to commit to policing themselves. We investigate whether voluntary self-reporting can reliably indicate effective self-policing efforts that might provide opportunities for enforcement efficiencies. We find that regulators used self-reports of legal violations as a heuristic for identifying firms that are effectively policing their own operations, shifting enforcement resources away from those that voluntarily disclose. We also find that these firms that voluntarily disclosed regulatory violations and committed to self-policing improved their regulatory compliance and environmental performance, which suggests that the enforcement relief they received was warranted. Collectively, our results suggest that self-reporting can be a useful tool for reliably identifying and leveraging the voluntary self-policing efforts of regulated companies.

Keywords: Environmental Sustainability; Governing Rules, Regulations, and Reforms; Programs; Governance Compliance; Corporate Disclosure; Law Enforcement;


Toffel, Michael W., and Jodi L. Short. "Coming Clean and Cleaning Up: Does Voluntary Self-Reporting Indicate Effective Self-Policing." Journal of Law & Economics 54, no. 3 (August 2011): 609–649.