An analysis of the quality of environmental disclosures in the annual financial statements of selected South African companies and a suggested environmental reporting model

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Environmental damage has become of widespread concern, so much so that some companies are disclosing environmental information in their annual reports, the traditional medium for communication to shareholders and other users. There is no recognised reporting model or framework for the reporting of environmental information. As a result, these disclosures are often ad hoc, and objective determination of their quality is extremely difficult. Furthermore, to the writer's knowledge, no survey of environmental disclosures has been conducted in South Africa. The objectives of this dissertation included the determination of an appropriate environmental reporting model, based on the critical review of the accounting legal and economic literatures. The reporting model suggested is that of compliance with legal environmental standards, with certain additional financial information. An existing disclosure index, enabling the objective measurement of environmental disclosure quality, was extended and adapted to the South African situation. Analysis of the index scores revealed an improvement in the quality of environmental disclosures over a five year period, and that disclosures are not influenced by a company's total assets or the presence of international shareholders. Analysis of index scores on a group basis revealed that disclosures are not made as a result of a top-down approach. However, companies in similar industries in a group tended to have almost identical disclosures. Comparison of the results of the South African survey with a similar American one, revealed a significant disparity between disclosure scores for the oil, paper and steel industries. This disparity is exacerbated by the difference in time period of at least 15 years, and suggests that the difference in disclosure quality is possibly as a result of the disparity in content and enforcement of legal environmental standards. With the opening up of international markets to South African business, producers may no longer be able to ignore international environmental standards, and the poor quality of South African disclosures may well prove unacceptable. Without more effective legal environmental standards, there will be little progress towards improved environmental disclosures.

Includes bibliographies and references.