Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Business and Law

First Advisor

Associate Professor Hadrian G. Djajadikerta

Second Advisor

Professor Zhaoyong Zhang

Abstract

China’s economy and development over decades has achieved not only its national prosperity, but also a significant degree of concern about corporate sustainability. As a vehicle of communication to society, corporate sustainability disclosures (CSD) are considered the most effective and efficient, facilitating the empowerment and acknowledgement of stakeholders in the quest for, and understanding of, sustainability. Much research has investigated the influential factors of CSD based on theories developed from Western standards and economy; however, very limited research considers the driving forces created by cultural and political influences based on the understanding of the perceptions of corporate sustainability among stakeholders in China. This study aims to explore the users’ perceptions and perceived importance of corporate sustainability disclosure (CSD), and to explain the driving forces of the quality of disclosure. In order to fully address the purpose of the study, an instrument for measuring the quality of sustainability disclosure was designed based on Global Reporting Index 4th generation. A survey questionnaire was used to collect information on the perception of CSD from the selected report user group; descriptive statistics, univariate analysis, as well as multivariate Ordinary Least Square regressions models were adopted in this study. Research modelling tested and differentiated the influence of Legitimacy Theory, Stakeholder Theory and Signalling Theory both separately and collectively. A pilot study was undertaken prior to the main study, to address the validity and feasibility of the application for the perception analysis. The responses from 128 registered financial analysts, and 238 stand-alone corporate sustainability reports issued in 2013, were collected for the main study.

The main study findings indicated that the hypotheses and theoretical framework proposed can be partially accepted in the Chinese context, and they suggest the following: 1. Environmental disclosure was perceived the most important, followed by social disclosure. Economic disclosure was perceived the least important. 2. Category wise, ‘Energy’, ‘Water’, ‘Emissions’ and ‘Effluents and Waste’ were perceived most important, and ‘Customer health and safety’, ‘Customer privacy’ and ‘Compliance’ were second-most important. 3. The quality of CSD in Chinese listed companies in 2013 was generally low, just more than the information simply being disclosed. 4. The quality and the quantity of disclosure did not vary much across corporate sustainability disclosure, and they need to be examined together while investigating corporate sustainability as a whole. 5. Well disclosed corporate sustainability information from the sample companies was mainly driven by government policies, as political influence played a significant role in affecting the quality of CSD. 6. Research hypotheses are shown to be at different significance levels among different types of sustainability disclosures. ‘Company location’ and ‘company size’ are significant for almost all types of CSD. ‘Foreign ownership’ and ‘industry’ are highly significant in the environmental models and the combined CSD models. The overall correlations between predictors and criterion variables are from considerably low to moderate, which suggests that the hypotheses are partially accepted.

One major implication of the study is the instrument developed from the analysis of the Chinese report users’ perceptions towards CSD. It helps CSD preparers and regulators to understand the difference in perceptions between the report users and the governing bodies, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the disclosures. Furthermore, Legitimacy Theory was shown to be the most significant in the Chinese context, followed by Stakeholder Theory and lastly, Signalling Theory. The study indicates that the quality of CSD from the state-owned companies was not very different from the non-state-owned companies, and they would be perceived highly sustainable even if they did not disclose. This indicates that political influence had a great impact on the perception of CSD. The content analyses and the regression analyses both provide valuable insights into the quality and practice of CSD. Consequently, this study motivates further research and contributes to the existing literature in this field of study in China.

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