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METHODOLOGY

The data collection exercise proved challenging5 due to the vast variation in structure, functionality, and presentation of websites. Approximately 75% of the companies on our list were headquartered outside the United States. Consequently, we encountered language barriers and cultural differences, such as lower use of social media in China compared to the United States and Europe. This may be explained by China's comparatively lower percentage of Internet users and the growing use of social media services unique to China that would not appear on the English version of the site.6 Determining which languages were covered on a site was sometimes difficult due to the number of languages and alphabets used by some companies. In some cases, the website did not offer an English version and we relied on Google Translate.7 While we initially sought an automated method for gathering the data, we found that it had to be done by hand and carefully checked.8 We created a template for coding up the features of each company's website, and the data were then transferred into a spreadsheet.

The last step in the data collection and preparation process was to create a set of logical categories for grouping the individual features (shown in Appendix 8.A).9 The categories we created were Financial Transparency (amount and quality of financial information), Sustainability Transparency (amount and quality of sustainability information), Connectivity (easy and obvious linkages of related parts of the website to each other),10 Interactivity (features to engage the user), and Utility (features to make the website as usable and user-friendly as possible).11 The raw score for each company was aggregated by category and converted to a Z-Score, which was then normalized between 1 and 100.12

WEBSITE CATEGORY ANALYSIS

Table 8.1 shows the average category scores by sector. Technology & Communications has the highest score of 61 (Healthcare is 59 and Resource Transformation is 58) and Infrastructure the lowest score of 40. The high scores may be a result of companies in these industries needing to have high-quality websites in general. Technology & Communications companies attempt to differentiate commodity products through branding and Healthcare companies need to educate consumers and build trust. Resource Transformation companies are necessary, but highly controversial, and need to ensure their license to operate.

For the separate categories, Connectivity shows the least variation across sectors ranging from Consumption (51) to Services (42). Utility has the widest range in scores by sector, from 64 for Healthcare to 32 for Infrastructure. This could be due to the fact that Consumption companies need to have much more useful websites for selling their products in comparison to Infrastructure companies. Financial Transparency, Sustainability Transparency, and Interactivity all have virtually the same range in scores across sectors.

Total Score by region saw more variation, with Europe highest at 67 and Asia lowest at 35 (Table 8.2). However, this comparison may be somewhat

TABLE 8.1 Global 500 Reporting Website Categories by Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) 5ector

Global 500 Reporting Website Categories by Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) 5ector

TABLE 8.2 Global 500 Reporting Website Categories by Region

Global 500 Reporting Website Categories by Region

artificial since it is possible that the native language version of Asian company websites would receive a higher score. While it is easy for companies based in non-English-speaking countries to translate an integrated report document into English, creating a fully functional English corporate reporting website is more challenging. How much a company should invest in doing so largely depends upon how important its foreign investors and other stakeholders are to it.

Table 8.3 contains data for the six countries with the largest number of Global 500 companies. The variation across each category is even greater than that by region due to the extremely low scores of China, which ranged from 18 to 25 across all categories. The European countries of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom mostly score higher than U.S. or Japanese companies. After China, U.S. companies have the lowest Sustainability Transparency and Connectivity scores. Yet on Interactivity, their score is in the same range as the European countries, and they have the highest Utility score by a wide margin.

The variation in Total Score by size range is the same as it is for the sector differences (Table 8.4). On balance, these data confirm our use of size as a proxy for sophistication. There is a clear relationship between Total Score and size of company, following a rank order aside from the last two size ranges, in which the order is reversed. Yet even the 100 largest companies in the world only received a Total Score of 61. The lowest variation was seen in Connectivity: the 100 largest companies actually received a score virtually identical to that of the companies ranked 200-300 in size. Although these differences are not large, the greatest variation occurred in Interactivity and Utility, suggesting that only the very largest companies see the benefit in making these important features of their reporting website. The least variation occurred in Financial Transparency and Sustainability Transparency.

Since listed companies have more reporting requirements than State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) or private companies, we correctly expected them to have higher scores for their reporting websites. We compared the scores of the 415 listed companies to the remaining 85 unlisted ones (Table 8.5), most of which are SOEs, with a few private family-owned companies. Our expectations were confirmed. Reflecting the fact that they have no obligations to outside shareholders, the unlisted companies rank much lower, with scores of one-quarter to one-half of the listed companies and especially low scores on Financial Transparency and Utility. However, unlisted companies are still subject to scrutiny and pressures from civil society, perhaps explaining their higher but still modest Sustainability Transparency score and comparable scores on Connectivity and Interactivity.

TABLE 8.3 Global 500 Reporting Website Categories by Country

Global 500 Reporting Website Categories by Country

TABLE 8.4 Global 500 Reporting Website Categories by Company Size in Revenues

Global 500 Reporting Website Categories by Company Size in Revenues

TABLE 8.5 Global 500 Reporting Website Categories by Type of Company

Number of

Financial

Sustainability

Companies

Transparency

Transparency

Connectivity

Interactivity

Utility

Total 1

Listed

415

58.11

55.55

50.97

53.53

58.17

58.84 1

Unlisted

85

18.16

28.64

28.81

26.52

15.52

18.82

Note: We used Bloomberg LP's market status coding to classify each company as Active, Private, and Unlisted.

TABLE 8.6 Website Categories of Integrated Reporting Companies

Region

Number of Companies

Financial Transparency

Sustainability Transparency

Connectivity

Interactivity

Utility

Total

Non-South

42

55.71

54.20

49.56

53.49

54.31

53.17

Africa

South Africa

10

32.29

43.40

73.93

31.19

32.45

40.92

Finally, we compared the websites of a subset of the integrated reporting companies (Table 8.6) discussed in the previous chapter to the Global 500. Using the same methodology, we analyzed the top 40 non-South African companies in terms of their total score on their integrated report and the same for the top 10 South African companies.13 The websites of the South African companies rank distinctly lower in every category except Connectivity, an ostensible artifact of their integrated report production. These results clearly indicate that having a high-quality integrated report and a high-quality corporate reporting website are completely independent of each other.

 
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