Demand for timely, accurate, and relevant sustainability information has risen dramatically in recent years. For sustainability reporting to meet the needs of stakeholders in the public interest, the infrastructure that supports sustainability reporting and assurance must be underpinned by high standards of ethical behavior and independence together with a robust system of quality management, oversight and enforcement.
In 2022, recognizing the foundational role of ethics and independence in the production, reporting and assurance of sustainability information, the IESBA committed to taking timely action to develop fit-for-purpose, globally applicable ethics and independence standards as a critical part of the regulatory infrastructure to support transparent, relevant and trustworthy sustainability reporting.
Importantly, this strategic commitment set up the IESBA’s ethics and independence standards as the third pillar to trustworthy sustainability reporting and assurance, alongside the standards being developed by the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) and the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB).
IESBA Establishes a Sustainability Reference Group
IESBA's Sustainability Reference Group (SRG) has been established to support the work of its Sustainability Task Force. The SRG members have been selected based on a series of criteria, including their background, experience or expertise in sustainability reporting or assurance, stakeholder groups, and geographical location. The members will act as a “sounding board” to the Sustainability Task Force, providing insights, expertise, or advice relating to the development of global ethics and independence standards for sustainability reporting and assurance.
The SRG will be chaired by Mr. Channa Wijesinghe, IESBA Member and Sustainability Task Force Member.
The SRG Members are:
- Kate Akery, Collins Aerospace, Europe
- Kenneth Amaeshi, European University Institute, Africa
- Antonio Astone, DNV, Europe
- Michael Bray, Deakin University, Oceania
- Charlotte Drain, Deloitte LLP, Europe
- Dongsoo Kim, AccountAbility, Asia
- Onara Oliveira de Lima, CCR Group/CBPS, South America
- Olga Rivas, Independent International Organisation for Certification, Global
- Samantha Ross, AssuranceMark, North America
- Michael Tang, SGX Group, Asia
Objectives of Sustainability Reference Group (SRG)
- To act as a sounding board to the IESBA’s Sustainability Task Force on proposals relating to the development of global ethics and independence standards for sustainability reporting and assurance (“IESBA sustainability standards”).
- To provide insights, expertise or advice on identified areas or matters relating to the development of the IESBA sustainability standards.
- To provide input to, or otherwise assist in, the development of non-authoritative guidance material relating to the application of the IESBA sustainability standards.
June 2023 update from Mark Babington, IESBA Working Group Chair
"Since the IESBA Board last met, the Sustainability Task Force has continued to work intensively to address the challenge of developing the Code of Ethics to respond to the challenges posed by sustainability reporting and assurance. In doing so we have carefully considered IOSCO’s encouragement to develop profession agnostic standards that can be used for all those who work in the Sector. In March and April we convened four, multi-stakeholder round tables to inform our understanding of the issues that need to be addressed, benefitting from excellent discussions and insight. In May we met in Lisbon, and set out proposals for revisions to the Code in principle, which the Board will now be asked to consider and provide its feedback, and will be able to also see draft text of new sections which will allow IESBA to deliver on its public interest mandate. At the same time there has been further extensive stakeholder outreach. We are in a good position to discuss our proposals thanks to the work of the Task Force, supported by the excellent IESBA staff team."
New: Ethics Considerations in Sustainability Reporting: Including Guidance to Address Concerns About Greenwashing
The IESBA is committed to being part of the rapidly progressing developments regarding sustainability reporting and assurance and providing timely responses to ethics and independence-related concerns.
This publication is intended to highlight the relevance and applicability of the Code to several ethics-related challenges arising from professional accountants' involvement in sustainability reporting and assurance, especially circumstances related to misleading or false sustainability information (i.e., "greenwashing").
IESBA Global Sustainability Roundtables
The International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) held a series of four global roundtables to obtain stakeholder input to help shape the development of new ethics and independence standards for sustainability reporting and assurance.
The all-day roundtables, held in person in Paris, France (March 24), Sydney, Australia (March 30), Singapore (April 3), and New York (April 6), allowed stakeholders to convey relevant information to be addressed in developing the new standards. They were attended by members of the investor and corporate governance communities, C-suite executives, data aggregators, rating agencies, regulators and oversight bodies; international policy-making organizations; national standard setters; preparers; professional accountancy organizations; and sustainability assurance providers, including accountancy firms and independent providers outside the accountancy profession.
Read the briefing materials for attendees here.
The IESBA announced in June 2022 its commitment to take timely action to develop fit-for-purpose, globally applicable ethics and independence standards as a critical part of the infrastructure needed to support transparent, relevant, and trustworthy sustainability reporting and assurance. Importantly, this strategic commitment sets up the IESBA’s ethics and independence standards as the third pillar to trustworthy sustainability reporting and assurance, alongside the standards being developed by the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) and the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB).
In December 2022, the IESBA approved two new standard-setting projects that will develop profession-agnostic ethics and independence standards for sustainability reporting and assurance and on the related topic of “use of experts.”Image
The IESBA December 2022 Sustainability Work Update
IESBA's December 2022 Update on Sustainability provides an overview of the sustainability-related decisions made by the Board at it's December 2022 meeting and how those decisions will shape the Board's work in 2023 and beyond.
On December 2, 2022, the Board unanimously approved two new projects that will deliver the following:
Sustainability Project (Click HERE to visit the project page)
- Profession-agnostic independence standards for use by all sustainability assurance practitioners
- Specific ethics provisions relevant to sustainability reporting and assurance
Experts Project (Click HERE to visit the project page)
- Specific ethics and independence provisions addressing the use of experts by organizations as well as in the context of audit and assurance engagements (including sustainability assurance)
How Does The Existing IESBA Code Apply to Sustainability Reporting and Assurance?
How does the existing IESBA Code apply to sustainability reporting and assurance?
The IESBA Code establishes a responsibility for professional accountants to act in the public interest. High quality ethics standards, such as those set out in the IESBA Code, establish the mindset and behavioral characteristics professional accountants must exhibit at all times when they apply financial and sustainability reporting standards. The Code sets out the fundamental principles of ethics for professional accountants, reflecting the profession’s recognition of its public interest responsibility. In addition, the Code provides a conceptual framework to identify, evaluate and address threats to compliance with those principles.
The Code also sets out the independence expectations professional accountants must meet when they are engaged to provide external assurance on information – both financial and non-financial.
In addition to the fundamental principles and conceptual framework, the following sections of the IESBA Code are of particular relevance to professional accountants in business involved in sustainability reporting:
- Section 210, Conflicts of Interest
- Section 220, Preparation and Presentation of Information
- Section 230, Acting with Sufficient Expertise
- Section 260, Responding to Non-Compliance with Laws and Regulations
- Section 270, Pressure to Breach the Fundamental Principles
Professional accountants in public practice who are called upon to help their clients in preparing sustainability-related information are required to comply with Part 3 - Professional Accountants in Public Practice of the Code.Image
Click here to access the Exploring the IESBA Code publication series to learn more about the topics covered in the parts and sections of the IESBA Code.
Stakeholders need to trust that auditors and assurance providers are independent of their clients and of management. In addition to complying with the Code’s fundamental principles, professional accountants in public practice are required to comply with the International Independence Standards when performing audits, reviews, or other assurance engagements. This includes sustainability assurance engagements.
To rely on an assurance practitioner’s report, there must be confidence that the firm’s professional judgment was not compromised, and that the practitioner was not influenced in a way that would threaten their integrity, objectivity, or professional skepticism. Auditors of public interest entities (PIE) are subject to additional independence requirements to meet stakeholders’ heightened expectations.
Financial statement auditors may be called upon to assist or advise their audit clients on sustainability reporting matters. In such circumstances the Code’s non-assurance services (NAS) provisions apply.Image
Broader Issues to be Considered
The IESBA notes that other professionals (not just professional accountants) are involved in preparing, presenting or assuring sustainability-related information. Therefore, as part of a separate workstream, the IESBA is exploring whether, and if so how, the scope of the IESBA Code could be expanded to cover professionals other than professional accountants in relation to sustainability reporting and assurance.
- IESBA, IAASB Welcome IOSCO Statement of Support for Developing Standards Relating to Assurance of Sustainability-related Information
- IESBA Commits to Readying Global Ethics and Independence Standards in Support of Sustainability Reporting and Assurance
- Comment Letter: IESBA Chair to ISSB on Exposure Drafts
- Webinar: Instilling Public Trust and Confidence in Sustainability Reporting and Assurance
- Chair Interview: Accountancy Gets an Ethics Injection
SUSTAINABILITY STAKEHOLDER QUESTIONNAIRE
Your feedback will help the Sustainability Working Group:
- Better understand how the Code is being used by those who are involved in reporting and providing assurance on sustainability-related information.
- Identify the specific activities that professional accountants in business and in public practice (including auditors) are undertaking in relation to sustainability reporting and assurance, with a view to identify and responding to the most pressing ethics (and independence) issues that arise.
- Inventory stakeholder suggestions about potential areas where the Code could provide more specific requirements and guidance to assist in enhancing public trust in sustainability reporting and assurance.
Please send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org
To view survey questions by category, click below.