Corporate reporting on environmental, social and governance (ESG) information is improving, a report from Chicago-based Morningstar Inc. says, but there are still huge gaps when it comes to employees.
“Given the public interest in social indicators — particularly in the form of gender pay and broader diversity metrics — disclosure is surprisingly low,” the report released earlier this month said. “It’s only to a small extent explained by local data privacy rules constraining what and how this type of data can be gathered and reported.”
The report found that more than 86% of companies globally have responded to investor interest to report on discrimination policy and diversity programs, such as the makeup of corporate boards.
The gender pay gap, on the other hand, while material to more than half of companies, has some of the worst disclosure at 20% globally.
“Given the high international profile of the topic, we would have expected more firms to at least have a gender pay equality program, but even this only runs to 30% disclosure,” the report said.
Morningstar also noted the inconsistencies when it comes to reporting on board composition. While a few companies provide granular information on specific racial or ethnic groups, more often companies use broad language such as “minority” or “ethnically diverse.”
“These disclosures provide little actionable or decision-useful information for investors,” Morningstar said.
The report pointed to regulatory changes that could improve reporting on societal indicators, from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation to Nasdaq’s proposal to require uniform gender, race and other information (such as LGBTQ+ status) on a company’s board of directors.
ESG information will remain “patchy and haphazard” until disclosure is regulated and mandatory, the report said.
“Voluntary disclosures have another adverse impact, in the form of overstating progress owing to a bias to disclosing when something’s being done well — if you look good, why not tell the world? If you look bad, don’t shout about it.”