Corporate Social and Environmental Accountability Rhetoric versus Evidence from Nigerian Subaltern Voices

Solomon Akpotozor, Nelarine Cornelius, James Wallace

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review

Abstract

Corporations’ accountability reports have been criticised of being bogus sustainability aims and intentions which are often unmet or overreported than actual actions addressing social and environmental concerns. Corporate social and environmental accounting (CSEA) rhetoric of firms has been found to be self-serving (Vinnari and Laine, 2017), greenwashed, organised hypocrisy (Cho, et al., 2015) or smokescreen meant to manage public impressions about them (Neu, et al., 1998). Compared to the global north, multinational firms take advantage of perceived institutional weaknesses (Khanna and Palepu, 2010) in the global south to avoid, remedy, protect and compensate subaltern people, indigenous communities and the natural environment for the harm caused by their operations (Boddewyn and Doh, 2011; Regnér and Edman, 2014). Despite this, there are inadequate global south studies which narrow the link between CSEA rhetoric and reality in subaltern communities. Therefore, we respond to the call of Prieto-Carrón et al. (2006, p.985) for “a critical research… to set a genuine human-centred approach to [CSEA] and emphasise the inclusion of underrepresented voices” in mainstream CSEA literature. We argue for the inclusion of the subaltern voice (Mitra, 2012) in the context of the global south into the mainstream literature because it is often lost in CSEA discourse (from the global south) due to excessive focus on corporations and their agents. We believe that the subaltern voice is crucial to determine the transparency of corporate disclosures and foster new polyvocal debates (Gallhofer et al., 2015; Brown & Dillard, 2013 about marginalised groups in society. Thus, in this study, we use Nigeria as an example of a country with extreme institutional voids to investigate whether CSEA rhetoric align with alternative evidence provided by subaltern voices and with the reality in subaltern communities. We do this using counter accounts of marginalised people living in subaltern communities hosting two multinational cement firms in Nigeria. The study uses multiple qualitative techniques, including content analysis of the firms’ annual reports (including photographic excerpts), semi-structured interviews, and photographs of the operational environment which support our investigation. A total of 29 interviews which comprise of corporate managers of the two firms, regulators, local community pressure groups and community members were conducted between January and April 2017 and September 2020 . We selected this broad set of stakeholders to give us richer insights into the firms’ CSEA rhetoric and the alternative accounts provided by subaltern voices. Our findings show a mismatch between corporate rhetoric and reality in local communities. Despite the institutional environment influencing the firms’ CSEA, there is no evidence of this matching the reality in the host communities. This, we attribute to institutional voids. The findings further reveal the importance of using the subaltern voice to provide alternative accounts of corporate social and environmental accountability practices in Nigeria. Our findings reveal that the subaltern voice as a social audit tool is capable of showcasing discrepancies between CSEA and practice in marginalised communities. Our study, therefore, contributes to the accounting literature by using counter accounts to reveal CSEA misrepresentations through meaning-making from subaltern-centric experiences (the subaltern voice). The findings suggest that although the firms involve in some political CSR activities, these are insufficient to ameliorate the externalities caused to communities and the natural environment. We also contribute to the CSEA literature by using empirical evidence to confirm that firms’ produced CSEA rhetoric in environments with known institutional voids are self-serving and do not provide a true and fair view of current realities nor align with counter subaltern accounts. As a minimum, our study suggests that corporations, especially those who operate in Nigeria specifically and the global south in general must embrace the Ruggie principles (2011) as it sets the minimal standards for corporate-community relations globally. Our study lends its voice to the critical accounting scholarship as it embraces difference and the pluralism of conceptual, contextual, and contested CSEA rhetoric. Our findings agree with prior critical accounting studies avowing the emancipatory nature of subaltern accounts to wilfully oppose accounts produced by hegemonic entities for whom or in whose name monologic sustainability accounts are produced. Our use of the subaltern voice is important in this regard as it provides antagonistic but objective difference to corporations’-produced social and environmental accountability rhetoric and how the subaltern sufferings can be leveraged to breed new solutions to existing anomalies of the current hegemonic structure (Vinnari & Laine, 2017). The results of our study have notable implications for theory as well as policy and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAlternative Accounts Europe Conference
Edition3
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2021

Keywords

  • Accountability
  • Subaltern voices
  • Counter accounts
  • Nigeria
  • Global south
  • Social and environmental accounting

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