AA1000 Assurance Audits

Understanding Accountability with AA1000 – an Interview with Claire Hart

Dr. Thijs Willaert CSR & Responsible Sourcing Leave a Comment

After earlier interviews with representatives of Sedex and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the last instalment in our series of interviews focuses on the AA1000 framework for social responsibility. Claire Hart, Director of AccountAbility AA1000 CIC, was happy to discuss her current activities and plans with us.

DQS: AccountAbility has developed three standards so far. Can you explain the relationship between them?

Claire Hart: The AA1000 Series of Standards are an innovative series of standards aimed at helping leadership organizations understand, respond to, embed and benefit from sustainability challenges. Businesses often find themselves faced with two key questions concerning sustainability issues: (i) “What issues should I be concerned with?” (ii) “How can I measure my performance with these issues?”

The AA1000 Series of standards is a set of principles-based standards aimed at helping organizations better comprehend these challenges.

The AA1000 AccountAbility Principles (APS) provide a framework that helps organizations move beyond a compliance approach to these issues and starts seeing them as value drivers. The Principles are outcome orientated and embed continuous improvement leading to more effective processes and ultimately more accountable performance.

DQS: And how does this standard relate to the other two?

Claire Hart: The AccountAbility Principles are the foundation for the other two standards in the series: the AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard (SES), which looks in more detail at the foundation principle of inclusivity, and the AA1000 Assurance Standard (AS) which enables organizations to have their management approach, performance and reporting verified. The flexibility of the principles means that organizations can use the values they articulate and adapt them to the needs of their context. Doing so requires commitment, understanding and leadership, as application varies depending on time, context and organization.

DQS: The AA1000 Framework is often used in combination with a GRI report, as a standard for external assurance. What is the added value of AA1000 for companies that already have a verified GRI Report?

AccountAbility - Claire Hart

Claire Hart, Director of AccountAbility AA1000 CIC

Claire Hart: The AA1000 Framework is aimed at assessing and strengthening the credibility and quality of an organization’s social, economic and environmental management, performance and reporting. The GRI on the other hand is predominantly a sustainability reporting framework.

Both frameworks share similarities, notably since the recent launch of GRI G4 that put the aspect of materiality at the heart of its guidelines. The AA1000 framework has had, since the inception of the AA1000 Series of Standards, materiality as one of the foundation principles of the framework. Our seminal publication from 2006 “The Materiality Report: Aligning Strategy, Performance and Reporting” brought the topic to a wider attention.

Further, the GRI G4 Guidelines encourage companies to have their sustainability performance data verified while the AA1000AS provides a credible standard against which a sustainability performance may be verified.

AA1000 and GRI G4 are not mutually exclusive, therefore, companies often use GRI Guidelines to inform their sustainability reporting and the AA1000 Standards to inform on what process to undertake to identify, prioritize and manage material sustainability issues in their organizations.

DQS: AccountAbility puts a lot of emphasis on stakeholder engagement and has even developed a separate standard. Is it your impression that organizations in general still underestimate the importance of engaging stakeholders?

Claire Hart: All organizations undertake stakeholder engagement in some format as they are constantly in dialogue with their different stakeholder groups – be they for example employees, customers, suppliers, government organizations or the public at large.  The AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard simply provides a framework to help organizations ensure stakeholder engagement processes are purpose driven, robust and deliver results. We are convinced that companies who formalize and effectively embed their processes internally are better able to capture the long-term value potential of developing active relationships with stakeholders.

DQS: In 2014, the EU adopted a directive that requires many companies to disclose information on policies and risks related to environmental matters and social responsibility. Where will AA1000 fit in?

Claire Hart: A company in the EU that has adopted the AA1000 framework will not only have identified material economic, environmental and social issues to its business, it will have addressed these issues from a management perspective. Companies who actively use the AA1000 Standards will, therefore, go above and beyond compliance with EU directives regarding disclosure of information on sustainability-related policies and risks.

DQS: What is AccountAbility currently focusing on? Are the standards up for revision anytime soon?

Claire Hart: Yes. For continued relevance in the global market place, it is key that the AA1000 Standards develop both independently and in collaboration with other appropriate standards.  Work is therefore underway to review the AA1000 Standards with independent technical working groups to provide technical content expertise.  As part of the work of the Technical Working Group, consultation processes will take place at the beginning of 2015, with estimated launch dates of April 1st, 2015.

DQS: We very much look forward to that. Claire, thank you so much for your time!

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DQS is a licensed assurance provider for the AA1000 framework. We also offer in-house workshops to help you prepare for the implementation and evaluation of the AA1000 standards

Dr. Thijs Willaert Administrator
Dr. Thijs Willaert is Director of Marketing & Communication at DQS CFS GmbH
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Dr. Thijs Willaert Administrator
Dr. Thijs Willaert is Director of Marketing & Communication at DQS CFS GmbH
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