Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2013/34/EU, Directive 2004/109/EC, Directive 2006/43/EC and Regulation (EU) No 537/2014, as regards corporate sustainability reporting
Svensk departementsnotat offentliggjort 25.5.2021
BAKGRUNN (fra kommisjonsforslaget, engelsk utgave)
Reasons for and objectives of the proposal
The Non-Financial Reporting Directive (Directive 2014/95/EU, the NFRD), amending the Accounting Directive, was adopted in 2014. Companies within the scope of the NFRD had to report in accordance with its provisions for the first time in 2018 (covering financial year 2017).
The NFRD applies to large public-interest entities with an average number of employees in excess of 500, and to public-interest entities that are parent companies of a large group with an average number of employees in excess of 500 on a consolidated basis. The NFRD exempts subsidiaries from its reporting obligations if their parent company does the reporting for the whole group, including the subsidiaries. Approximately 11 700 companies are subject to the reporting requirements of the NFRD.
The NFRD introduced a requirement for companies to report both on how sustainability issues affect their performance, position and development (the ‘outside-in’ perspective), and on their impact on people and the environment (the ‘inside-out’ perspective). This is often known as ‘double materiality’.
In accordance with the NFRD, in 2017 the Commission published non-binding reporting guidelines for companies. In 2019, it published additional guidelines, on reporting climate-related information. These guidelines have not sufficiently improved the quality of information companies disclose pursuant to the NFRD.
The European Commission committed itself to proposing a revision of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive in the European Green Deal and its 2020 Work Programme. The European Green Deal aims to transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy with no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. It will decouple economic growth from resource use, and ensure that all EU regions and citizens participate in a socially just transition to a sustainable economic system. It also aims to protect, conserve and enhance the EU's natural capital, and to protect the health and well-being of citizens from environment-related risks and impacts. The revision of the NFRD will contribute to the objective of building an economy that works for people. It will strengthen the EU’s social market economy, helping to ensure that it is future-ready and that it delivers stability, jobs, growth and investment. These goals are especially important considering the socio-economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for a sustainable, inclusive and fair recovery.
In line with the Commission’s Sustainable Finance Action Plan, the EU has taken a number of measures to ensure that the financial sector plays a significant part in achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal. Better data from companies about the sustainability risks they are exposed to, and their own impact on people and the environment, is essential for the successful implementation of the European Green Deal and the Sustainable Finance Action Plan. By making companies more accountable for and transparent about their impact on people and the environment, this proposal can also help strengthen relations between business and society. It will also create opportunities for companies, investors, civil society and other stakeholders to radically improve the way sustainability information is reported and used thanks to digital technologies. In December 2019, in its conclusions on the Capital Markets Union, the Council stressed the importance of reliable, comparable and relevant information on sustainability risks, opportunities and impacts, and called on the Commission to consider the development of a European non-financial reporting standard.
In its May 2018 resolution on sustainable finance, the European Parliament called for the further development of reporting requirements in the framework of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD). In its December 2020 resolution on sustainable corporate governance, it welcomed the Commission’s commitment to reviewing the NFRD, called for an extension of the scope of the NFRD to additional categories of companies, and welcomed the Commission’s commitment to developing EU non-financial reporting standards. The European Parliament also considered that non-financial information published by companies pursuant to the NFRD should be subject to a mandatory audit.
The primary users of sustainability information disclosed in companies’ annual reports are investors and non-governmental organisations, social partners and other stakeholders. Investors, including asset managers, want to better understand the risks of, and opportunities afforded by, sustainability issues for their investments, as well as the impacts of those investments on people and the environment. Non-governmental organisations, social partners and other stakeholders want to hold undertakings to greater account for their impacts of their activities on people and the environment.
The current legal framework does not ensure that the information needs of these users are met. This is because some companies from which users want sustainability information do not report such information, while many that do report sustainability information do not report all the information that is relevant for users. When information is reported, it is often neither sufficiently reliable, nor sufficiently comparable, between companies. The information is often difficult for users to find and is rarely available in a machine-readable digital format. Information on intangibles, including internally generated intangibles, is under-reported, even though these intangibles represent the majority of private sector investment in advanced economies (e.g. human capital, brand, and intellectual property and intangibles related to research and development).
The information needs of users have increased significantly in recent years and will almost certainly continue to do so. There are several reasons for this. One is the growing awareness of investors that sustainability issues can put the financial performance of companies at risk. Another is the growing market for investment products that explicitly seek to conform to certain sustainability standards or achieve certain sustainability objectives. Yet another is regulation, including the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation and the Taxonomy Regulation. As a result of both these regulations, asset managers and financial advisers need more sustainability information from investee companies. Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to further accelerate the growth in demand for sustainability information from companies, for example regarding the vulnerability of workers and the resilience of supply chains.
There is therefore a widening gap between the sustainability information companies report and the needs of the intended users of that information. On the one hand, this means that investors are unable to take sufficient account of sustainability-related risks in their investment decisions. This in turn has the potential to create systemic risks that threaten financial stability. On the other hand, the gap means that investors cannot channel financial resources to companies with sustainable business models and activities. This in turn undermines the achievement of the objectives of the European Green Deal. It also hampers stakeholders’ ability to hold undertakings accountable for the impact they have on people and the environment, creating an accountability deficit liable to undermine the efficient functioning of the social market economy.
The current situation is also problematic for companies that have to report. The lack of precision in the current requirements, and the large number of private standards and frameworks in existence, make it difficult for companies to know exactly what information they should report. They often experience difficulties in getting the information they themselves need from suppliers, clients and investee companies. Many companies receive requests for sustainability information from stakeholders in addition to the information they report to comply with current legal requirements. All of this generates unnecessary business costs.
The objective of this proposal is therefore to improve sustainability reporting at the least possible cost, in order to better harness the potential of the European single market to contribute to the transition towards a fully sustainable and inclusive economic and financial system in accordance with the European Green Deal and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The proposal aims to ensure that there is adequate publicly available information about the risks that sustainability issues present for companies, and the impacts of companies themselves on people and the environment. This means that companies from which users need sustainability information should report such information, and that companies should report all information users consider relevant. Reported information should be comparable, reliable and easy for users to find and make use of with digital technologies. This entails changing the status of sustainability information to make it more comparable to that of financial information.
The proposal will help reduce systemic risks to the economy. It will also improve the allocation of financial capital to companies and activities that address social, health and environmental problems. Finally, it will make companies more accountable for their impacts on people and the environment, thereby building trust between them and society.
The proposal aims to reduce unnecessary costs of sustainability reporting for companies, and to enable them to meet the growing demand for sustainability information in an efficient manner. It will bring clarity and certainty on what sustainability information to report, and make it easier for preparers to get the information they need for reporting purposes from their own business partners (suppliers, clients and investee companies). It should also reduce the number of demands companies receive for sustainability information in addition to the information they publish in their annual reports.
There are a number of important international initiatives in place. Their aim is to help to achieve the worldwide convergence and harmonisation of sustainability reporting standards. The EU fully supports this ambition. EU companies and investors that operate globally will benefit from such convergence and harmonisation. The Commission supports initiatives by the G20, the G7, the Financial Stability Board and others to generate international commitment to develop a baseline of global sustainability reporting standards that would build on the work of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. The proposals of the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation to create a new Sustainability Standards Board are especially relevant in this context, as is the work already carried out by established initiatives including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) and CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). This proposal aims to build on and contribute to international sustainability reporting initiatives. EU sustainability reporting standards should be developed in constructive two-way cooperation with leading international initiatives, and they should align with those initiatives as far as possible while taking into account European specificities.
This proposal consists of one Directive that would amend four existing pieces of legislation. In the first place, it would amend the Accounting Directive, revising some exiting provisions and adding certain new provisions about sustainability reporting. In addition, it would amend the Audit Directive and the Audit Regulation, to cover the audit of sustainability information. Finally, it would amend the Transparency Directive to extend the scope of the sustainability reporting requirements to companies with securities listed on regulated markets, and to clarify the supervisory regime for sustainability reporting by these companies.