Do societal attitudes and voluntary disclosures go hand in hand? – A study of three companies‟ annual reports from 1980-2009
Background and problem: In recent years, a debate about the negative effects of globalization, such as companies‟ exploitation of resources and how they affect individuals and societies has evolved further. In addition, it has become increasingly important with branding; companies want to create certain positive associations with their brand. These matters have also been observed by media. This makes it especially interesting to study how companies, in voluntary disclosures in annual reports, where they stand uncontradicted, act on issues concerning individuals and societies in which they operate. As society and marketing trends change over time, it is of interest to study whether or not companies answer to these changes. Objective: The purpose of this study is to examine and compare voluntary disclosures in three companies‟ annual reports from 1980 until 2009 and link this to the public debate, societal changes and established theories. Delimitations: Voluntary disclosures in annual reports every fifth year starting from 1980 until 2009 will be studied. The study will not attempt to draw any conclusions whether or not the voluntary disclosure reflects the companies‟ actual actions. Information that deviates from this stated framework will not be further studied. The economic situation during the studied period will not be taken into consideration. Method: The study is based on the voluntary disclosures from Ericsson, H&M and ICA and the result will be presented in a matrix based on different parameters and aim the answer the defined problems. Result and conclusion: All three companies have increased the amount of voluntary disclosure, both regarding the content and extent in all studied areas. They also follow development of the public debate and societal change, but with more or less ten years of lagging. ICA adapts most rapidly, in all studied decades, to the changes within the society, followed by Ericsson until the 2000s when H&M gets ahead of Ericsson. Suggestions for further studies: Further studies could be to examine whether companies alleged undertakings are in accordance with their actions and also how they reach the decision of what to perform.