A critical reflection on voluntary corporate non-financial and sustainability reporting and disclosure: lessons learnt from two case studies on integrated reporting

Giacomo Pigatto*, Lino Cinquini, John Dumay, Andrea Tenucci

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
83 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: This study aims to provide a critical assessment of developments in the field of voluntary corporate non-financial and sustainability reporting and disclosure (VRD). The assessment is grounded in the empirical material of a three-year research project on integrated reporting (IR).

Design/methodology/approach: Alvesson and Deetz’s (2021) critical management framework structures the arguments in this paper. By investigating local phenomena and the extant literature, the authors glean insights that they later critique, drawing on the empirical evidence collected during the research project. Transformative redefinitions are then proposed that point to future opportunities for research on voluntary organisational disclosures.

Findings: The authors argue that the mainstream approaches to VRD, namely, incremental information and legitimacy theories, present shortcomings in addressing why and how organisations voluntarily disclose information. First, the authors find that companies adopting the International IR Council’s (IIRC, 2021) IR framework tend to comply with the framework only in an informal, rather than a substantial way. Second, the authors find that, at times, organisations serendipitously chance upon VRD practices such as IR instead of rationally recognising the potential ability of such practices to provide useful information for decision-making by investors. Also, powerful groups in organisations may use VRD practices to establish, maintain or restore power balances in their favour.

Research limitations/implications: The paper’s limitations stem directly from its aim to be a critical reflection. Even when grounded on empirics, a reflection is mainly a subjective effort. Therefore, different researchers could come to different conclusions and offer different lessons from the two case studies.

Practical implications: The different rationales the authors found for VRD should make a case for reporting institutions to tone down any investor-centric rhetoric in favour of more substantial disclosures. The findings imply that reporting organisations should approach the different frameworks with a critical eye and read between the lines of these frameworks to determine whether the purported normative arguments are achievable practice.

Originality/value: The authors reflect on timely and relevant issues linked to recent developments in the VRD landscape. Further, the authors offer possible ways forward for critical research that may rely on different methodological choices, such as interventionist and post-structuralist research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-278
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Accounting and Organizational Change
Issue number2
Early online date19 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

© Giacomo Pigatto, Lino Cinquini, John Dumay and Andrea Tenucci. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Critical research
  • Figurational theory
  • Integrated reporting
  • Serendipity
  • Voluntary disclosure


Dive into the research topics of 'A critical reflection on voluntary corporate non-financial and sustainability reporting and disclosure: lessons learnt from two case studies on integrated reporting'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this