What I like about Standard Chartered's reporting is its consistency, focus and sense of impact. Their reports are structured around Standard Chartered's core focus areas which have remained consistent since their change to sustainability reporting in 2006. This year, the report is entirely on-line with a downloadable 8 page summary of highlights in progress against ‘08 goals and outline of ‘09 targets. The 8 focus areas of Standard Chartered’s sustainability goals are: Access to financial Services; Sustainable Banking; Community; Environment, Responsible Marketing, Financial Crime and Good Place to Work. In each section there is a background page which describes why the issue is important to the Bank's and to world sustainability, details of progress against the Standard Chartered plan, a section called "our stories" which gives examples of actions taken and in some cases, impacts achieved, and a "data and trends" section, highlighting relevant key data.
Microfinancing is given a lot of weight in this report, as is Standard Chartered's progressive work in Islamic banking based on Islamic Shariah law. In the workplace, Standard Chartered's treatment of HIV/AIDS issues is impressive, with compulsory employee training, non-disclosure Company-funded HIV testing for all employees, framed within a pledge to educate 1 million people by 2010. As the Bank's activities are in Africa, Asia and the Mid East, this is a core concern for sustainability and a Millennium Goal priority. Another significant impact reported is the Bank's ‘Seeing is Believing’ program - a global program to help tackle preventable and curable global blindness. "We launched the programme to celebrate our 150th anniversary in 2003, and by the end of 2008, it had reached over five million people in 17 countries, contributing to over two million sight restorations". Two million people can now see as a result of this Bank's intervention. That's quite some impact. If you see what I mean. Pun intended! The "Race for a Living Planet" campaign involving Standard Chartered employees and half a million others in pledging to contribute to changing the environment, with a resulting $1 million donation to environmental causes, is another example of the Bank's leverage to create (and report) big change. Standard Chartered use the London Business Group model to record community investment, proving once again that the use of this methodology contributes to improved quality of reporting and transparency.
A further point of note in the environmental section is that after an analysis of 2008 travel, Standard Chartered found that 80% of all air travel between their five major locations is for internal meetings. Internal meetings. Standard Chartered were obviously as astounded as I am at this piece of data, bought better video-conferencing equipment and brought down air travel emissions by 14% in 2008, probably saving quite a bunch of money in the process. An all-round benefit of pursuing a sustainability policy, I believe.
The issue I have with this report is relating to stakeholders. There is a section called engagement. It includes three recommendations from stakeholders about how to improve reporting. Standard Chartered provide a brief response. I would have liked to see more detail about what came up in stakeholder discussions and what the material issues are for the Bank's stakeholders. And what are not. It is probably safe to assume that most of these are included in the report focus areas, but a materiality matrix would help.
The website format is user-friendly. I hate having to click my way around websites (as opposed to a downloadable PDF) but this one works well enough. The consistent approach throughout the site makes it easy to locate data. Unless you are looking for a GRI index, that is. The GRI index is in theory available as a download but instead of getting the GRI Index, you get the UNGC index twice. An oversight, I am sure, but it meant I couldn’t check the GRI index, something I have got used to using as a key tool for reviewing reports. The PDF is rather dry, stating focus-area goals and the fact that they have all been met. But I am sure it is a brief and concise enough read for Standard Chartered’s stakeholders, including of course, employees. The stories section has quite broad appeal, and gives some interesting insights: for example, data optimization in India avoiding the need for 77 new servers, and the new Singapore building which is solar powered and will use 35% less energy than standard offices in Singapore.
Standard Chartered’s 2007 report was a self-declared ‘B’ application level GRI report. The level of this report is not disclosed and it is not assured. I would recommend at least a limited level of assurance. This report contains some corrections of previously misreported data (e.g. in the area of environment) which may be an indication that, with the best of intent, other discrepancies may be present. Some of the data is not quite clear to me: environmental data is reported for 45,000 FTE employees only whilst the group employs 73,000. Emissions data excludes freight, air travel is partial, and it is not clear to me whether all office locations are included or not. Data presentation should be clearer, in my view, and should be supported by explanations relating to non-reported areas. CO2 emissions increased by 11%. The focus environmental goals were met but the Bank is emitting more CO2 than last year . Why? No explanation. The report covers little in the way of unresolved challenges. An example is the percentage of women in senior management. This is improving slowly by 1% a year, now standing at 17%. The Bank declares this as an area for improvement, but plans to achieve this are not all that convincing. The issue around the Rapu Rapu copper mine in the Philippines (partially financed by Standard Chartered in line with Equator Principles) is reviewed, highlighting the difficulty of ethical credit decisions. This one ended up with Standard Chartered selling their debt exposure, though the impact of this on the Bank is not clarified. However, the comprehensive coverage, the use of stories, the detail of impacts and the provision of context for almost all disclosures make this an impressive and generally credible reporting effort.
1. Fuller disclosures on stakeholder engagement and assessment of materiality
3. Work towards providing global data in all sections, but if not, clarify the basis for calculations and the reasons for incompleteness, as well as changes in performance shown by the data
Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz, a leading CSR reporting and consulting firm in Israel, specializing in a wide range of consulting services for the development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses.