An exploratory investigation into the corporate social disclosure of selected New Zealand companies

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Corporate social disclosure, that is, the communication of an organisation’s social and environmental impact through the annual report or similar medium, is an increasingly important issue, and arguably has benefits for companies and society. This study investigates the corporate social disclosures of five companies over a five-year period, with the aim of investigating trends in corporate social disclosure in large New Zealand companies who operate in industries receiving public attention for their social and environmental impact. Corporate social disclosure was measured through number of sentences disclosed, and classified into theme (environment, energy, product, community, employee health and safety, employee other and general) and evidence (monetary quantitative, non-monetary quantitative and declarative). This study found no clear trend of increasing levels of corporate social disclosure; instead there was an increase in 1997 and a decrease in 1998. Legitimacy theory, political economy theory and economic conditions represented possible explanations for this trend, demonstrating the difficulty in using a single perspective to explain corporate social disclosure. Corporate social disclosure did not significantly increase from 1996 to 2000, and disclosure was primarily ‘quantitative’ and ‘employee other’, leading this research to posit that New Zealand companies are not responding to the increased worldwide importance of corporate social disclosure. In summary, this study provides valuable empirical evidence of corporate social disclosure in New Zealand, and also provides an example of the complexity of corporate social disclosure practice, and the difficulty in applying a single theoretical perspective to explain corporate social disclosure.
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