Human-rights reporting needs machine-readable data
The Danish Institute for Human Rights has published a notable discussion paper on sustainability reporting and human rights. It reports on a project which aimed to use algorithm-assisted analysis of a large number of company reports contained in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Disclosure Database to glean human-rights insights. The paper discusses what this type of ‘big data’ approach can tell us, and a number of challenges and limitations.
One important constraint on the research was difficulty in downloading reports from the GRI database, highlighting the need for a central repository of machine-readable reports that facilitates access to the data. “Ensuring that company reports are made accessible and digitised in a machine-readable format is essential not only for big data analysis projects, but for all stakeholders wishing to assess and compare the human rights performance of reporting companies,” says the paper. It notes that the forthcoming European Single Access Point (ESAP) may address a number of the challenges faced by the project, as well as facilitating analysis of companies over time.
The project also struggled with variation in reporting format and a lack of standardisation, leading the paper to emphasise the need for a common set of standards. “The capacity to easily access, analyse and compare reporting is crucial for a range of stakeholders including ESG investors and civil society groups focused on corporate accountability,” it observes. “Standardisation of reporting would greatly assist this kind of big data analysis, enabling efforts to analyse company reporting to be scaled up.” The development of the European Sustainability Reporting Standards could significantly enhance possibilities for comparison, analysis and insight.
The study affirms the value of machine-readable digital data for a wide range of reporting and analytic goals – and reminds us that it facilitates deeper insights by even the most sophisticated analytical tools.
Read more here.