Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2014

The Consequences of Mandatory Corporate Sustainability Reporting: Evidence from Four Countries

by Ioannis Ioannou and George Serafeim

Abstract

We examine the effect of mandatory sustainability reporting on corporate disclosure practices. Specifically, we examine regulations mandating the disclosure of environmental, social, and governance information in China, Denmark, Malaysia, and South Africa using differences-in-differences estimation with propensity score matched samples. We find significant heterogeneity in corporate disclosure responses across those four countries. Relative to propensity score matched control firms, treated firms in China and South Africa increased disclosure significantly. We also find increased propensity to receive assurance to increase disclosure credibility in the case of South Africa, and increased propensity to adopt reporting guidelines to increase disclosure comparability in both China and South Africa. In contrast, treated firms in Denmark and Malaysia did not increase disclosure. Danish firms responded by embedding environmental and social factors in their supply chain management, and by signing on the United Nations Global Compact while Malaysian firms adopted reporting guidelines. We do not find any evidence that the disclosure regulations adversely affected shareholders. Instrumental variables regressions suggest that increases in disclosure driven by the regulation are associated with increases in firm value. Our results highlight the role of local context and institutional differences in how firms in different countries respond to reporting regulations.

Keywords: sustainability reporting; mandatory reporting; corporate sustainability; corporate social responsibility; Integrated Corporate Reporting; Training; Corporate Governance; Governing Rules, Regulations, and Reforms; Governing and Advisory Boards; Law Enforcement; Management Practices and Processes; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Environmental Sustainability;

Citation:

Ioannou, Ioannis, and George Serafeim. "The Consequences of Mandatory Corporate Sustainability Reporting: Evidence from Four Countries." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 11-100, March 2011. (Revised May 2012, October 2012, August 2014.)