Accountability, Sustainability and Governance Academic Roundtable: “The ISSB and the Materiality Debate”

Posted by GIOVANNA MICHELON - Dec 17, 2021

Just yesterday the Trustees of the IFRS Foundation announced the appointment of Emmanuel Faber to serve as Chair of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB).

The formation of the ISSB is a significant moment in the corporate reporting landscape. The ISSB aims to bring together the extensive body of works of existing voluntary sustainability disclosure standards and frameworks to create a set of globally accepted sustainability disclosure standards that will offer relevant and reliable sustainability-related financial information to investors. The consultation responses show general support from com capital market participants (preparers, investors, auditors, and regulators). However, the consultation shows that the academic community is divided.  
On the one hand, the formation of the ISSB is seen as an improvement from the current reporting landscape which is becoming increasingly fragmented due to the existence of multiple and often overlapping sustainability disclosure standards, frameworks, and local regulations. The ISSB would create a ‘gold standard’ that would enhance the decision-usefulness of sustainability-related financial information. On the other hand, the ISSB’s approach represents a departure from the early practice of sustainability reporting which takes a much broader stakeholder focus and assumes the purpose of sustainability reporting is wider than providing decision-useful information for investors. In this regard, there is concern that ISSB standards will serve the capital markets but at the expense of wider stakeholders, and ultimately, the wellbeing of our planet and our society.  
While this debate is only surfacing in practice in recent times, it has always been a key concern in the rich tradition of social and environmental accounting research. This is a concern that has also become increasingly relevant in practice as exemplified by the contrasting positions assumed by the ISSB which adopts the IASB Conceptual Framework definition of materiality versus the proposed EU Corporate Social Responsibility Disclosure Directive (CSRD) which is suggesting a wider ‘double-materiality’ perspective.
In an effort to contribute to this current policy debate on the notion of materiality in the context of sustainability reporting, the Accountability, Sustainability and Governance Research Group at the School of Accounting and Finance of the University of Bristol will host an Academic Roundtable to outline the different perspectives on the potential intended and unintended consequences of this standard-setting process, particularly in relation to sustainable development.  
The event will be held virtually on 20th January 2022, 11:00 – 12:30 (UK Time) and will bring together experts in financial reporting and sustainability reporting. We are delighted that our panel of expert speakers will feature Prof. Brendan O’Dwyer (University of Manchester and University of Amsterdam), Prof. Begoña Giner (Universitat de Valencia), Prof. Ian Thomson (University of Birmingham), and Prof. Thorsten Sellhorn (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), moderated by Dr Tim Kasim (University of Bristol).
More info and registration link here
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