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Analyzing intellectual capital information in sustainability reports: some empirical evidence

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to investigate the content, frequency and quality of intellectual capital voluntary disclosure (ICVD) and the changes that took place over two years (2005 and 2006) in a sample of 37 sustainability reports published by Italian listed companies. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The intellectual capital framework consists of three levels: "IC categories", "IC items" and "IC indicators", while content analysis was performed using a quality multidimensional scheme composed of three disclosure profiles, namely, time orientation, nature of information and type of information. Findings ‐ The findings evidence a high and increasing incidence over time of ICVD, with strong emphasis on human capital disclosure, which represents the most reported category, followed by relational and organisational capital. ICVD is mainly expressed in non-financial, quantitative and non-time-specific terms with a low level of forward-looking information. Research limitations/implications ‐ This study is based on a small sample of sustainability reports; the content analysis process entails some subjective judgments. Practical implications ‐ From a firm perspective, sustainability reports can be used in synergy with annual reports and other public and private documents to provide IC information. From a user perspective, sustainability reports can be used to acquire IC information over and above information acquired from other documents. Originality/value ‐ Sustainability reports and ICVD quality have thus far been investigated only to a limited extent. The paper also discusses the potential of ICVD in sustainability reports from a user perspective.

Keywords: Disclosure; Intangibles; Intellectual capital; Italy; Quality; Sustainability reports

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 19, 2012


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