The contemporary business is operating under volatile conditions where the attention of stakeholders and the public predetermine the overall success of an enterprise. Voluntary disclosure, in this regard, is a way to inform the interested parties about the firm’s operations to cultivate trusting relationships. Indeed, according to Bourveau and Schoenfeld (2017, p. 1307), the information in the form of company disclosures “is the foundation on which traders from their beliefs about a company and ultimately their investment decisions.” Thus, due to the evidence indicating the importance of voluntary disclosure for firms’ proper operation, several questions are aimed to be answered in the course of the current comparative analysis. Firstly, to what extent do the companies disclose their financial underperformance? Secondly, how do the companies represent information about their corporate social responsibility? The answers to these questions will allow for understanding what role voluntary disclosure plays in the contemporary business environment regardless of the sphere of firms’ operations. The current comparative analysis of qualitative data is based on the content analysis approach to interpreting the information available from the company’s annual reports.
Research Process Description
The process of research started with the search for documents from big corporations. The criteria for the search included the firms’ UK origin, their multinational scope of operations, and diversity in their spheres of performance. Once Tesco and BP were located, the choice of the sphere of interest followed, which is voluntary disclosure in business. The importance of this topic and the relevance of comparative analysis to the understanding of its utilization were then supported by academic literature. Once the literature search and review was conducted, the following conceptual ideas were collected.
In contemporary accounting, financial statements that firms present to their stakeholders and the general public allows for maintaining an image of an accountable enterprise. However, complex financial information that usually accompanies businesses’ statements “makes it difficult for management to bring any given item to investors’ attention” (Guay, Samuels and Taylor, 2016, p. 234). Therefore, big companies with progressive growth strategies tend to integrate their financial statements into simple and constructive delivery means to ensure they reach their target audience. The two companies chosen for the comparison utilize a presentation type annual report as a means of clear communication of their performance, achievements and goals to their stakeholders.
Sometimes, companies use voluntary disclosure as a tool of misinforming with an aim of stimulating investment. Such a situation occurred when, in 2014, Tesco committed fraud by overstating its revenue volume and causing significant losses for stakeholders in the future (Kukreja and Gupta, 2016). On the other hand, levered firms that have some liabilities and debts have a public obligation to incorporate voluntary disclosure to their reports to demonstrate their endeavours and goal achievement on the way to leveraging their financial situation (Beyer and Dye, 2018). This information is crucial for placing the comparative analysis into the relevant context for better question formulation and search for answers.
The two companies allocated for the comparative analysis locate their headquarters in the UK and have a worldwide reputation of successful entities in their respective spheres. Tesco is a big British net of multinational grocery stores that operates in large volumes and occupies one of the leading roles in the global retail market (Tesco, 2019). BP is a multinational oil and gas company that originated in the United Kingdom that occupies a significant place among the world’s biggest corporations in the energy sector (BP, 2018). Two dimensions where voluntary disclosure is crucial for the firm’s growth and competitive advantage include corporate social responsibility and accounting openness. Firstly, corporate social responsibility helps to ensure that the company’s business strategy is aligned with society’s expectations. Secondly, the disclosure of financial information ensures the attraction of investors to the company.
One of the most important and explicitly addressed issues that big corporations address in their business reports is the environmental impact of their operations. Since the problem of global warming attracts increased attention across the world, “stakeholders (states, general public, investors, and lobbyists) have put climate change on corporate agendas and expect firms to disclose relevant greenhouse gas information” (Depoers, Jeanjean and Jerome, 2016, p. 445; Giannarakis et al., 2018). When comparing the disclosure of such kind of information by Tesco and BP, a similar extent of addressing the issue was identified in both entities. Both companies align their corporate strategies according to the Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (BP, 2018; Tesco, 2019). Although this is a mandatory disclosure program, both companies respect the concerns of their stakeholders and populations’ about the environmental impact and disclose more information related to their endeavours aimed not only at the reduction of emissions but also on the improvement of their products.
The comparison of the extent to which BP’s and Tesco’s data discloses the greenhouse gas emission scale shows that the area of performance influences the degree to which a company prioritizes environmental issues. Indeed, BP presents a more in-depth analysis of their efforts due to the overall high potential of harm in the gas and oil industry. The annual report states that the company managers “work hard to avoid, mitigate and manage our environmental and social impacts over the life of our operations” (BP, 2018, p. 48). On the other hand, Tesco provides a brief representation of factual information concerning emission rates. Thus, it is evident that the extent of utilization of voluntary disclosure depends on the concerns associated with the sphere in which a firm performs. The similarity in the firms’ significant attention to ecology indicates that both BP and Tesco view these efforts as a tool to ensure sustainability prospects for stakeholders and increase corporate social responsibility.
Both companies are particularly descriptive in terms of the portrayal of their staff and depiction of the diversity in the communities of workers they create. This similar feature in voluntary disclosure of corporate information contributes to the favourable reputation of the firms. Financial data disclosure also has similarities and differences. In most cases, voluntary disclosure applies when firms want to acquire more competitive advantages over their main competitors (Cano-Rodriguez, Marquez-Illescas and Nunez-Níckel, 2017). Overall, the efforts to utilize voluntarily disclosed information about the firm’s financial and operational performance enhance the visibility of the firms in the eyes of potential investors (Dambra, Schonberger. and Wasley, 2018). BP provides a more in-depth analysis of the performance of its departments, interprets the goal achievement and effectiveness of their work and provides financial indicators beyond mandatory requirements. Tesco is less descriptive in terms of interpretation of the performance particularities but rather provide an explicit financial analysis of the operations. On the other hand, Tesco demonstrates more disclosure in terms of salaries and remuneration policies than BP does.
Conclusions about Voluntary Disclosure in the Two Companies
The conducted comparative research helped to understand how firms’ attitudes to the utilization of voluntary disclosure vary, although a similar purpose is served. Indeed, the identified similarities in the two documents indicate that Tesco and BP chare the high level of awareness concerning the importance of environmental efforts for both the general public and stakeholders. However, the differences were found in the extent to which the firms disclose their performance in the environmental area. Since BP is engaged in a dangerous energy-related sphere, its climate change work disclosure is more in-depth as opposed to Tesco’s. The comparison of the voluntary financial disclosure of the two companies shows that the companies tend to be more descriptive in the stronger areas that might contribute to their competitive advantages. Overall, the analysis allowed for answering the questions and showed that the area of operations and the scope of international influence of a firm determines its voluntary disclosure intensity to serve the purposes of stakeholder attraction and corporate social responsibility improvement.
In the course of this comparative analysis research, I managed to cultivate a consistent approach to finding relevant literature, identifying key elements in qualitative data and interpreting in the chosen context. Since the concept of voluntary disclosure is relevant to the modern-day business environment, I was able to expand my knowledge about the practical utilization of it by some leading firms. The use of the comparative analysis method to investigate the topic in two documents has contributed to my skills in qualitative research. This experience will be a beneficial feature for my future research work.
- Beyer, A. and Dye, R.A. (2018) ‘Voluntary Disclosure by Levered Firms’. Web.
- Bourveau, T. and Schoenfeld, J. (2017) ‘Shareholder Activism and Voluntary Disclosure’, Review of Accounting Studies, 22(3), pp. 1307-1339.
- BP (2018) Growing the business and advancing the energy transition BP Annual Report and Form 20-F 2018. Web.
- Cano-Rodriguez, M., Marquez-Illescas, G. and Nunez-Níckel, M. (2017) Experts or Rivals: Mimicry and Voluntary Disclosure’, Journal of Business Research, 73, pp. 46-54.
- Dambra, M., Schonberger, B. and Wasley, C. (2018) ‘Voluntary Disclosure and Firm Visibility: Evidence from Firms Pursuing an Initial Public Offering’. Web.
- Depoers, F., Jeanjean, T. and Jerome, T. (2016) Voluntary Disclosure of Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Contrasting the Carbon Disclosure Project and Corporate Reports. Journal of Business Ethics, 134(3), pp. 445-461.
- Giannarakis, G. et al. (2018) Determinants of Corporate Climate Change Disclosure for European Firms. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 25(3), pp. 281-294.
- Guay, W., Samuels, D. and Taylor, D. (2016) ‘Guiding through the fog: Financial statement complexity and voluntary disclosure’, Journal of Accounting and Economics, 62(2-3), pp. 234-269.
- Kukreja, G. and Gupta, S. (2016) ‘Tesco Accounting Misstatements: Myopic Ideologies Overshadowing Larger Organisational Interests’, SDMIMD Journal of Management, 7(1), pp. 9-18.
- Tesco (2019) Serving shoppers a little better every day. Annual Report and Financial Statements 2019.