THE ESSENTIALS: Resources that can facilitate impactful reporting on corporates

This chapter will equip journalists on how to source information from the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reports (BRSR) and how to use this information in storytelling.

Currently the chapter can be downloaded as a PDF document in English. We are working on translations in other Indian languages.

Listed companies in India have been mandated to file Business Responsibility Reports (BRRs) since 2012. At the time, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) had mandated the top 100 listed companies based on their market capitalization to do so as part of their annual reports. By 2019, this requirement was expanded to the top 1,000 listed entities.

The disclosure requirements were based on the National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business’ (NVGs) (more on those in Chapter 3 of this module). Examples of information that companies were required to disclose included:

🚺 Overall, the number of employees, including how many are permanent, contractual, temporary. How many women employees does the company have? How many people with disability does the company employ?

❌ The number of complaints related to child labour, sexual harassment, discriminatory employment.

🔆 Representation of people from vulnerable and marginalised communities in the external stakeholders of the company.

📄 Any consumer complaints that are pending from the company’s side.

The full list is in the format available here.

“The BRR is a template that arises from the national guidelines. Before 2011, we did not have in India a prescription from the State for what was meant by responsible business and once all that was sorted out in 2011, the very next year, it became mandatory for listed companies starting with 100, now ending at 1000 to declare on a format that is adopted, consulted with. 

Starting 2012, citizens have access to a template of information and non-financial data that one could compare, analyse. Prior to that, every company released its own data as it pleased, and there was no scope to compare reports, even within a business sector. And they were certainly not aligned to the national guidelines, because prior to 2011, there weren’t any,” explains Viraf Mehta, Social Anthropologist and Independent Expert on Business and Human Rights.

BRR + S: The Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reports 

In 2021-22, this is changing. The BRR will soon become the BRSR, or the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reports. In 2019, the NVGs were updated and became the National Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct (NGRBCs). 

A committee constituted by the MCA recommended “keeping in view the global developments, which are increasingly seeking businesses to be responsible and sustainable towards their environment and society and increased focus of investors on sustainability investing.” From these deliberations, the BRSR framework emerged.

‘The  BRSR  is  an  initiative  towards  ensuring  that  investors  have  access to Standardized disclosures  on  ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) parameters. Access  to relevant and comparable  information, will enable  investors  to  identify  and  assess sustainability- related  risks  and  opportunities  of companies and  make  better  investment  decisions. At  the  same  time, companies  will be able  to  better  demonstrate their sustainability  objectives,  position  and  performance resulting into long term value creation. Overall, higher standards of ESG disclosures and transparency, will help in attracting more capital and investment.’ (SEBI Circular dated March 10, 2021). 

The BRSR disclosure requirements come into force from FY 2022-23, and they have been made voluntary for FY 2021-22. They will be applicable to the top 1,000 listed entities.

⚙️ How-to 

  • The BRSR reports are available in the annual reports of all companies, usually towards the end as an annexure.
  • The report will typically be available as a table. On the left hand column  is a list of fields of information that companies are required to disclose.
  • On the right, the company’s response on each field.
  • In terms of design, the reports could look different, but the template for BRSR is provided by SEBI. This will help you compare information across companies, or for the same company across different years.

How can journalists use this information?

👉🏽 One approach could be to study the practices of specific companies from their disclosures, but reporters can also go a step ahead and do a more sector-wide analysis.

For the business media, the BRSR disclosures present a unique opportunity to analyse what different business sectors are doing, says Viraf Mehta, Social Anthropologist and Independent Expert on Business and Human Rights. “I would recommend that we move beyond looking at individual companies. You could look at sectors instead, or groups of companies. You could start by reading about say mining first, and then looking at what a particular mining company is doing, and how different companies within the sector perform – who is doing better, worse etc.”, suggests Mehta.

👉🏽 It should also be remembered that the BRSR is not a ranking system or an index, it wasn’t designed to do that. It’s equally designed to help companies assess their gaps in reporting, says Mehta.  

👉🏽 Instead of looking at BRSR reports in isolation, reporters can and should read various disclosures and information related to a company together. This will help bring out some insightful analysis. For example, as John Samuel Raja of How India Lives recommends, it is worthwhile to look at CSR spending of a company along with BRR disclosures, for example. 

Or as Mehta suggests, one could read BRSR data along with disclosures that Indian companies make to other governments. Several countries require similar disclosures from Indian companies that do business there, and sometimes more granular or additional information could be found in those disclosures. 

👉🏽 Lastly, responsible business is an evolving framework, and the media can contribute significantly in its own way. The media does not have to be reactive, observes Mehta. “If the business media gave us a series of questions on behalf of the public, they could be included in future versions of BRSR frameworks,” says Mehta. 

Story Examples

📌 India Inc’s policies for supply chain not robust, Arundhati Ramanathan, Livemint.

📌 Corporate India is getting better but far from being truly inclusive, Akshi Chawla, The Indian Express.

📌 Non-Financial disclosures to dig deep into sustainable corporate practices, Ruchika Chitravanshi, Business Standard.

📌 Should you include sustainable funds?, Abhinav Kaul, Livemint.

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