The communications industry has reacted angrily to the New Economics Foundation's claims that social reporting is mere corporate spin.
Its report, 'Corporate spin: the troubled teenage years of social reporting', says that there are big discrepancies between what some of the leading companies say and what they do. It also says that nearly half the business and finance journalists in the UK feel social reports are 'just PR gloss with little real substance'.
Dr Tom Watson, chairman of the PRCA said it was a 'cheap jibe' by the NEF to accuse companies of using social reports as a new form of corporate spin.
'The evidence that I have seen from my consultancy's clients alone is that major changes have been made to the quality of life and working conditions of people in developed and developing countries,' he said.
John Drummond, a director at Corporate Culture and adviser to the DTi on corporate responsibility, said the NEF's report could discourage organisations from undertaking social audits. 'They should encourage companies to report. Attacking them for 'spin' is insulting, I find it bizarre,' he said.
He also refuted the report's claims that marketing departments had taken over the area of social reporting. 'I would be delighted if marketing departments were engaged. It would show the process was closer to the heart of business.'
Communications has a role in the process, said Drummond, in highlighting where there is a gap between policy and practice.
He did agree with the report's findings that still very few companies are actually reporting. It estimates less than one per cent of all listed companies on the London or New York stock exchanges undertook social reporting.
There is also the problem, agreed Drummond, that there are no checks on claims and actions.
Ruth Potts, a member of the NEF's corporate accountability programme, denied the Corporate Spin report would work against the social reporting movement. 'The perception is that it's been widely taken up, but that isn't the case. It must be widespread - we don't want to discourage people from producing reports,' she said.
Where there is concurrence is on the issue of making social reporting mandatory. Potts said: 'We want to see companies report in the same way as an annual report.'
Watson and Drummond both highlighted the issue of integrity. 'Companies learned many years ago that 'greenwashing' of policy does not stand scrutiny,' said Watson.