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A do-good culture rises within the Emirates

National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) is among a growing number of companies here that have publicly committed themselves to adopting socially responsible programmes, becoming more transparent and fighting financial crime.

Documenting such initiatives, though, is relatively new for companies in the Emirates.

Until a few years ago, NBAD dedicated a section of its annual report to its sustainability efforts. After senior management expanded the reach of the NBAD team that works in this area, the bank started releasing a separate document outlining successes and commitments.

"Sustainability is now included in the review of all business areas by our internal audit team," says Sally Paterson, the head of business planning and strategy at NBAD.

"The step we intend to take for 2012 is to get independent, third-party assurance for the report." "We're looking for that validation of what we're doing - not just saying where we are."

While putting sustainability strategies in writing is still not the corporate norm in the UAE, even fewer firms incorporate such aspects of their activities into an integrated report. Some experts argue that an integrated report gives investors and other stakeholders a better overall picture of how the various pieces of a business operate and fit together.

"Integrated reporting is something which is getting more traction, especially over the last decade," says Badr Jafar, a co-initiator of the Pearl Initiative, a private-sector led, non-profit organisation that aims to improve transparency, accountability and business practices in the Arab world.

"Integrated reporting is really about realising the linkages between company strategy, governance and financial performance and linking it with the environmental, economic as well as the social environment and context in which it operates."

Company executives might shudder at the thought of having to produce yet another document, as many already create a financial overview, chairman's report and summary of corporate social-responsibility programmes to meet the requirements of shareholders and regulators.

Each of these reports provides important information. "But what they do not tell us is the information that really matters to a large number of stakeholders," argues Helen Brand, the chief executive of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, a global organisation.

"They do not give us a long-term view, how the pieces of information connect with each other and how a company's performance relates effectively to the business model. We believe while there is not a shortage of information, there is a confusion, and we're concerned that without a report that links all the information in a coherent way … [the information] risks being put into an area that few will see."

Creating an integrated report is not an easy task.

The logistics company Aramex started reporting on its corporate social responsibility programmes back in 2006, including its use of recycled paper and biodegradable plastic in packaging, as well as awarding educational scholarships and requiring winners to volunteer in the community.

Last year, Aramex issued its first fully fledged integrated report, discussing initiatives such as these within the context of the company's broader operations.

"Trust me, it was not easy," says Raji Hattar, Aramex's chief sustainability and compliance officer.

"It's tough because you're talking to a different stakeholder group - shareholders. Now, they have to read the whole thing, and it's integrated in a way [where] they must read it [all]. It took us a long time."

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