Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the international, non-profit organization that provides the world's most widely used sustainability reporting standards. In the South Asia region and companies are increasingly using the GRI Standards to disclose their impacts.
GRI's work in Bangladesh is supported by the Australian Government (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) and the organisation has a partnership with the Dhaka Stock Exchange to enhance corporate transparency in the country. Meanwhile, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) is GRI's strategic partner in Bangladesh for projects that catalyse action by the private sector in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Why is sustainability reporting relevant for companies in Bangladesh?
In recent years, Bangladesh has been one of the fastest growing economies. At the same time, companies are starting to realise the importance of disclosing their impacts -- on the economy, the environment and people. For example, how a business is contributing to climate change mitigation, safeguarding human rights, or ensuring employee health and safety are all examples of the ways organisations can assess sustainability risks and opportunities, demonstrating to investors and other stakeholders that they are trustworthy and accountable.
How can the GRI Standards help?
The GRI Standards are provided as a free public good, offering a global common language for sustainability reporting. This means that companies in Bangladesh can disclose their impacts in a reliable and comparable way, which adheres with international best practice. Furthermore, as multinational companies and global brands look for sustainable supply chains, they increasingly expect their suppliers to report their impacts.
Any organisation -- large or small, private or public -- can use the GRI Standards to report on its impacts. The information produced by GRI reporting is also highly relevant to many stakeholders, including investors, policymakers, capital markets, and civil society.
Where do Bangladeshi companies stand compared to neighbouring countries?
A South Asia trends report by GRI published in May of listed companies shows that there are 11GRI reporting companies in Bangladesh. The same research found 74 GRI reporters in India and 83 in Sri Lanka. Yet in Bangladesh many businesses are new to reporting and are at the start of their journey to report their impacts. While Bangladesh has a lower level of reporting than other countries in the region, that is starting to change. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of Bangladeshi companies producing sustainability reports increased by 36 per cent, which is very encouraging.
How can Bangladesh achieve more progress in sustainability reporting?
Our experience in how other nations work shows that strong regulatory measures have been the key to drive sustainability reporting. A mandate regulating all companies to report using GRI Standards can go a long way in driving both quality and quantity of sustainability reporting in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Bank has been one of the pioneers in mandating use of the GRI Standards among financial regulators. Since 2011, Bangladesh Bank has required banks to publish 'green' reporting that adheres to internationally accepted standards, such as those of GRI. Additionally, in December 2020, they released the Sustainable Finance Policy, signalling the growth in demand for high quality sustainability reporting data.
How do the GRI Standards relate to the SDGs?
Organisations can also use the GRI Standards to report on their impacts and progress on the SDGs. Reporting on the SDGs can unlock business opportunities while contributing towards a sustainable future - both in Bangladesh and globally.
An example here is the recent report from GRI, -- Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the UN Environment Programme, supported by SIDA, which explored how this important industry contributes not only to the national economy but also to helping achieve the country's National Priority Indicators for the SDGs.
How is GRI working with Dhaka Stock Exchange - and how can companies participate?
GRI has been actively working with the DSE on building the capacity of companies on sustainability reporting. Over the last few years we have collaborated to organise many workshops, roundtables, virtual & in-person sessions -- not only for the listed and large companies in Bangladesh but also involving the market regulators like Bangladesh Bank and Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission.
With the technical input from GRI, DSE has launched Guidance on Sustainability Reporting for listed companies in Bangladesh, while we have plans for a further workshop series on preparing a sustainability report, scheduled for the second half of 2021. Please get in touch with us to participate -- or learn more about GRI and DSE's collaboration.
Why DSE decided to collaborate with GRI
It seems from the beginning that corporate transparency is essential for smooth operation and promotion of the market. It boosts the confidence of the stakeholders about the health and shape of the companies as well as market. To support it, GRI Standards serve as a great tool for companies to adopt and use to report on their ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) impacts which ultimately increases the accountability of the company towards society. Thus, DSE collaborated with GRI which is a leader in providing world's most widely used sustainability disclosure standards. We are very optimistic to make it a success in the days ahead.
How did this partnership shape up and benefit the companies over the years?
It started with the interaction of GRI with BSEC on policy considering GRI norms in sustainability reporting and after that Dhaka Stock Exchange Limited ("DSE") and Global Reporting Initiative ("GRI") entered into an agreement on May 20, 2018 to build commitment and awareness to provide guidance to listed companies on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance). DSE released a guidance on ESG reporting for the Listed Companies of Bangladesh in early 2019.
To the date DSE and GRI already organised several workshops where senior management officials of listed companies attended and gathered exclusive and hands-on knowledge about sustainability reporting using GRI Standards to report.
To accelerate the process DSE is making GRI visible on the DSE website so that companies can understand and make efforts to join this journey. Companies are also reporting on ESG and incorporating GRI norms in their annual reports.
Future plans of DSE on this engagement
Emphasising regulatory measures that are essential on GRI-based sustainability reporting for companies to take action on ground and start reporting, GRI & DSE will continue engaging with policy makers and regulators on this aspect. Simultaneously both will continue working towards building the capacity of listed companies on GRI-based sustainability reporting.
DSE and GRI are continuously endeavouring to engage all stakeholders of listed companies to focus on benefits it can bring over years and help build a resilient investment market. To add, DSE is making its exposure to various events to attract the listed companies to take a look at their activities, opportunity within and accountability to society.
Dr. Aditi Haldar is Director of GRI South Asia and Abdul Matin Patwary, FCMA is Managing Director