The COVID-19 pandemic has been adding pressures on companies to commit to their social and ethical responsibilities. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting is the main tool through which companies communicate their social behaviour and the need for credible information is censorious during the crisis. This paper aims to measure the level of COVID-19 disclosures in CSR reports by using an automated textual analysis technique based on a sample of UK companies and investigate whether the level of disclosure is enhanced for companies that subject their CSR reports to an assurance process.
The study sample consists of FTSE All-share non-financial listed companies. The authors use a computer-aided textual analysis, and we use a bag of words to capture COVID-related information in the CSR section of the firm’s annual reports.
The results suggest that the existence of independent external assurance is significantly and positively associated with the provision of COVID-19 information in CSR reports. The authors also find that when assurance is provided by Big 4 accountancy firms, the disclosure of COVID-related information is enhanced. Furthermore, large companies are more likely to disclose COVID-related information in their CSR reports that are externally assured from top-tier accountancy firms, suggesting that assurance could be a burden for smaller firms. Overall, the findings suggest that assurance on CSR reports provides an “insurance-like” protection that mitigates the risks and signals the management’s ethical behaviour during the pandemic.
The study approach helps to assess the level of corporate engagement with COVID-19 practices and the extent of related disclosures in CSR reports based on the COVID-19 Secure Guidelines published by the UK government. This helps to emphasise how companies engage and communicate COVID-19-related information to stakeholders through CSR reports and ensure a safe working environment during this pandemic. Managers will need to assess the costs and benefits of purchasing assurance on CSR disclosures, giving the ethical signal that assurance sends to the market and protection that it covers during the crisis.
This paper provides a shred of unique evidence of the impact of the existence of external assurance and the type of assurer on the disclosure of COVID-related information in CSR reports. To the best of authors’ knowledge, no study has yet investigated the corporate disclosure on an unforeseen event in CSR reports and the role of CSR assurance in this respect.