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Social and environmental accounting, auditing, and reporting: a potential source of organisational risk governance?

Bebbington, J. and Thomson, I. (2007) Social and environmental accounting, auditing, and reporting: a potential source of organisational risk governance? Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 25 (1). pp. 38-55. ISSN 1472-3425

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Abstract

The authors examine the extent to which the practices of social and environmental accounting, auditing, and reporting (SEAAR) provide opportunities for the identification, communication, and management of social and environmental risks. In introducing and exploring accounting practices, the theoretical allegiances of accounting are also outlined in order to situate accounting as a social science discipline which experiences similar debates to other areas of scholarship. The authors also extend discussion of risk governance and accounting by reference to the 'new' literature on risk from writers such as Adams, Beck, and Lash. It is suggested that the insights from these broader theorists on risk apply equally to conventional accounting and attempts via SEAAR to create an expanded governance framework. In particular, Beck identifies a number of critical aspects of risk governance that are also central to an understanding of accounting, including: the danger of seeking verifiable and neutral truth; the causal denial of harm; the contestation of expert and lay knowledge of risks; social construction of risk; and the radicalisation of rationality. Paraphrasing Beck, it is argued that accounting and accountants are incapable of managing the risks of industrialisation as they are implicated in the creation and multiplication of these risks, yet accounting and accountants, in particular those engaged in SEAAR, can play an essential role in identifying these risks. It is further argued that the contribution of SEAAR to risk governance will largely depend upon a radicalisation of accounting rationality in practice.