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Amnesty social report could lead way for NGOs

July 2004

Amnesty International UK is to become one of the few non-governmental organizations to produce a social report.

The move, which could put pressure on some of Amnesty’s large non-profit peers to follow suit, results partly from the human rights watchdog’s key role in the Core Coalition, a UK-based body that favours mandatory corporate social reporting.

Amnesty, which has not set a publication date for the report, told EP that it did not want to be seen to be advocating something that it did not do itself.

‘We believe organizations of any size should report their social and environmental impacts, and there’s no reason why NGOs shouldn’t be held to the same standards as companies,’ it said. ‘It would be totally feeble to suggest otherwise.’

Amnesty says that although it has only about 150 staff in the UK, its impact on society is ‘sizeable’. The report will cover impacts such as energy use, environmental matters, treatment of employees and diversity, but it is also expected to look at the wider impact of its campaigning.

Consultant Adrian Henriques, who will help Amnesty UK produce the report, said that the cost of a social audit was likely to deter many non-profits, but ‘there is a growing culture among NGOs to start doing this kind of thing’. He said NGOs’ future reporting on impacts such as energy use and supply chains is likely to be similar in scope to that of companies. However, NGOs would also have to cover issues specific to their sector, such as the degree to which they are accountable to stakeholders, and whether they campaign in a responsible manner.

Only a handful of NGOs produce social reports. CorporateRegister.com, the largest online directory of corporate non-financial reports, lists only 20, mostly institutes and trade associations. The only organization listed that is comparable to Amnesty is WWF, which produced its first annual standalone environmental report in 1999 and is now discussing internally whether to produce a combined social and environmental report. Oxfam has done some social auditing, and the world’s largest environmental group, the US-based Nature Conservancy, recently reported on its governance and other ethical matters, although not in a full social report (EP6, issue2, p5).

CorporateRegister director Paul Scott said: ‘It’s a groundbreaking move for Amnesty, and it will put them ahead of most companies. But it will also add to the pressure on other NGOs, who can’t ask companies to do what they are afraid to do themselves.’

A Charity Commission study of 200 NGOs due this month is expected to find that many reveal insufficient details of their activities and spending.

Public authorities are also being urged to report on social and environmental matters. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants is considering a public sector reporting category for its sustainability reporting awards next year, and is discussing this with the UK government. And the Global Reporting Initiative is designing a supplement to its reporting guidelines for public sector bodies, expected next year.




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