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Wildlife species omitted in most Top 200 companies' sustainability reports, finds MDX co-authored study

“Companies must be completely transparent about their impact on wildlife, more so than ever after the COVID-19 pandemic," says MDX's Dr Suman Lodh

The majority of the world's top 200 richest corporations have been failing to disclose how many species of animals they conserve, protect or which are threatened with extinction by their operations, according to a new study.

Researchers from Brunel University, MDX and the University of West Scotland analysed reports from the Fortune Global 500 list – the measure of the top corporations by revenue - between 2012 and 2016.

The study revealed during this period 75% (452) of 599 annual sustainability reports produced by the top 200 companies on the Fortune Global 500 List failed to reference any species.

In addition, only 23% (34) of the 147 annual and sustainability reports which mentioned the name of species had obtained external assurance for reliability and quality of the reports.

A staggeringly low number - 9.5% (14) of the 147 reports - had achieved an environmental award.

The research paper said: “This research is significantly timely, as experts suggest that pandemics such as COVID-19 are a result of habitat loss, wildlife trafficking, and humanity’s destruction of biodiversity.

“Potentially, COVID-19 may not be an isolated pandemic; therefore, there must be a seismic shift from companies in valuing and protecting nature.

“In addition, biodiversity loss is now recognized as one of the top five global risks with severe implications for society if transformational changes are not made.”

Academics downloaded annual and sustainability reports from the corporations’ websites, with sustainability reports also referred to as corporate responsibility, citizenship and environmental.

The paper concludes: “Embedding ecological culture and aligning with societal and government expectation to prevent further pandemics will be crucial for future organisational survival.

“Our findings suggest that companies who engage with wildlife partnerships are leading in the protection of species and imply that partnerships are a key driver in preventing further species extinctions and preventing pandemics.

“The collaboration between wildlife and biodiversity experts and companies can achieve long-term sustainability and contribute to developing solutions.

“Our results imply that there is a huge call for corporate consciousness and opportunity for companies to display their responsible efforts.”

Dr Suman Lodh, a Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Finance from Middlesex University who co-authored the paper, said: “These companies are failing to address the global biodiversity crisis by not saying anything about their impact on wildlife or their efforts to protect and conserve species and their habitats.

“This is not how a global corporate citizen, and particularly the richest companies in the world, should act.

“Companies must be completely transparent about their impact on wildlife and efforts to tackle biodiversity, more so than ever after the COVID-19 pandemic which many scientists believe originates from human pressure on biodiversity such as close contact with wildlife and habitat destruction”

In 2016, the US supermarket giant Walmart topped the Fortune Global 500 list and remained in the top position in 2020.

The State Grid Corporation of China and China National Petroleum, which were second and third in 2016, were placed third and fourth in the 2020 Fortune 500 Global List – as the China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec Group) was second in 2020.

The research was co-authored by Dr Lodh; Brunel University academics Doctoral Researcher Lee Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Accounting Ahmed A.Elamer, and Reader in Accounting and Finance Dr Monomita Nandy; and Reader in Accounting from the University of the West of Scotland, Dr Abeer Hassen.

The full paper has been peer reviewed and published in the journal Springer Link.

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