Environmental accountability and transparency

Through the accountability nexus accounting would take on the role of constraining organisational activities, particularly those activities that may be considered environmentally degrading. Currently, the awareness that accounting fails to recognise such ‘other’ interests as the environment may be limited, but ‘the more this becomes known by people outside accounting, the less accounting can confer legitimacy’ (Nelson, 1993, p. 224).

In defining itself in terms of accountability, accounting would no longer perform a narrow stewardship role. The essence of the notion of accounting implied in accountability is based on not simply what Gray et al. (1987, 1988) call the middle-ground: in which the status quo is accepted...[where] the ambition is neither to destroy capitalism nor to refine, deregulate and/or liberate it.

(from Tinker et al., 1991, p. 29, quoting Gray et al., 1987, 1988)

But this chapter differs from the work of Gray et al. (1987, 1988) and Gray (2010), in that the aim is to argue for basic institutional alterations explicitly using the work of Rawls (1971, 1993). A justice perspective adds theoretical rigour to the middle-road, which was not the original intention of Gray et al. (1988, 1991). Their failure to explore their assumptions has resulted in a major challenge to that position by Tinker et al. (1991) who argue that the middle-ground is ‘relativist’, ‘pluralist’, and is merely an exercise in ‘imminent legitimation’.

The case for environmental reporting, moreover, is based on a pluralist model. Rawls’ analysis is concerned with pluralism in its new form, or more correctly in its new meanings. Society is no longer seen as consisting of groups of sovereign individuals nor as interest-maximising groups (as in earlier pluralism) but of groups held together by inter-subjectively shared language.1 As Rawls (1989) argues:

Under the political and social conditions that the basic rights and liberties of free institutions secure, a diversity of conflicting and irreconcilable comprehensive doctrines will emerge, if such diversity does not already exist. Moreover, it will persist and may increase. The fact about free institutions is the fact of pluralism, (p. 235).

Rawls’ adaptation does not deny the fact that powerful groups may use the basic institutions (of which accounting is an example) as an instrument of domination. However, in his theory a political conception of justice is not necessarily tailored by the dominant group to justify favoured results. Rather, the purpose of a theory of justice, defined on pluralist terms, is ‘to discover and formulate the deeper bases of agreement’ that he hopes are to be found within the present social structures and intuitively in terms of citizens’ considered convictions (Rawls, 1980, p. 518).

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