Mari­na Prada

is Head Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Per­for­mance & Audit at Syn­gen­ta. She man­ages non-finan­cial report­ing and advis­es on mat­ters relat­ed to the company’s sus­tain­abil­i­ty agen­da and asso­ci­at­ed per­for­mance man­age­ment and dis­clo­sure. Pri­or to Syn­gen­ta, Mari­na worked in sus­tain­abil­i­ty con­sult­ing at PwC.

best prac­tice

Achieving robust non-financial reporting

By Mari­na Pra­da / Illus­tra­tion: Anne Lück

Using data gen­er­at­ed at the cus­tomer lev­el Syn­gen­ta breaks new ground

Cor­po­rate non-finan­cial infor­ma­tion enhances the under­stand­ing of the company’s activ­i­ties, chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties. ­Exter­nal stake­hold­ers and inter­nal man­agers use it to mea­sure per­for­mance and make deci­sions about the com­pa­ny, and they should be able to have com­plete con­fi­dence in it.
The qual­i­ty of infor­ma­tion is a reflec­tion of the matu­ri­ty of a company’s inter­nal con­trol envi­ron­ment. Non-finan­cial report­ing process­es and inter­nal con­trols have tra­di­tion­al­ly been less ­mature than those exist­ing in finan­cial report­ing. Due to the increased busi­ness rel­e­vance of non-finan­cial infor­ma­tion, com­pa­nies like Syn­gen­ta have rec­og­nized the need for a robust inter­nal con­trol envi­ron­ment for non-finan­cial information. 

Com­mit­ment to sus­tain­able development

With more than 28,000 employ­ees in over 90 coun­tries, ­Syngenta’s­ busi­ness serves and sus­tains one of the world’s largest indus­tries: agri­cul­ture. Today the indus­try is grap­pling with one of the tough­est chal­lenges on earth – feed­ing the world’s fast-grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. In Sep­tem­ber 2013, Syn­gen­ta set ambi­tious quan­ti­ta­tive tar­gets to help the world’s grow­ers rise to that chal­lenge in a sus­tain­able way. Syn­gen­ta calls this com­mit­ment “The Good Growth Plan”*. As an inte­gral part of Syngenta’s busi­ness ­strat­e­gy, the Plan focus­es on six cru­cial issues – land pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and input effi­cien­cy, soil fer­til­i­ty, bio­di­ver­si­ty, small­hold­er inclu­sive­ness, prod­uct stew­ard­ship and sup­ply chain sus­tain­abil­i­ty.
Short­ly after the launch of The Good Growth Plan, and with the sup­port of its Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, Syn­gen­ta embarked on a project to improve its non-finan­cial report­ing. Guid­ed by the prin­ci­ples out­lined in the 2013 COSO Inter­nal Con­trol-Inte­grat­ed Frame­work and lever­ag­ing finan­cial report­ing con­cepts and prac­tices, the ini­tial efforts focused on design­ing, imple­ment­ing and doc­u­ment­ing report­ing process­es and con­trols for the ­col­lec­tion and report­ing of per­for­mance data asso­ci­at­ed with The Good Growth Plan.

Data col­lect­ed from over 3,600 farms

Key chal­lenges that were over­come in the first year encom­passed: (i) the com­plex­i­ty of estab­lish­ing rig­or­ous report­ing process­es and col­lect­ing reli­able data beyond the com­pa­ny bound­aries, as most data for The Good Growth Plan are gen­er­at­ed at the ­cus­tomer farm lev­el; (ii) the unique­ness of the per­for­mance indi­ca­tors of The Good Growth Plan and the unprece­dent­ed non-finan­cial report­ing approach­es required; and (iii) the required change in mind-set among the indi­vid­u­als involved in report­ing, who are experts in their respec­tive tech­ni­cal fields (e. g. bio­di­ver­si­ty, ­prod­uct stew­ard­ship, labor rights) but not famil­iar with con­cepts such as inter­nal con­trols and assur­ance of infor­ma­tion.
In its Annu­al Report 2014, Syn­gen­ta report­ed Good Growth Plan progress infor­ma­tion for the first time. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Open Data Insti­tute, it was also pub­lished in open data for­mat, i. e. search­able, use­able and share­able via the Inter­net. For ­exam­ple, datasets includ­ed infor­ma­tion for agri­cul­tur­al effi­cien­cy indi­ca­tors col­lect­ed in over 3,600 farms in more than 40 coun­tries and 20 crops. It was the first time infor­ma­tion at a crop lev­el was made pub­lic in this way by a com­mer­cial organization. 

Pio­neer in assur­ance for non-financials

Syn­gen­ta has been con­duct­ing lim­it­ed assur­ance on its exter­nal­ly report­ed non-finan­cial infor­ma­tion for over ten years. In 2015, and fol­low­ing a Board of Direc­tors rec­om­men­da­tion, Syn­gen­ta took the report­ing rig­or of The Good Growth Plan to the next lev­el and achieved rea­son­able assur­ance, i. e. a lev­el sim­i­lar to that found in finan­cial audit. Achiev­ing the required rig­or entailed hav­ing more robust inter­nal con­trols and report­ing tools, bet­ter defined account­abil­i­ties and sharp­er doc­u­ment­ed pro­ce­dures. It also required con­duct­ing exten­sive train­ing for the indi­vid­u­als involved in report­ing activ­i­ties. As a result, the qual­i­ty and con­fi­dence in the data has sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased. For exam­ple, per­for­mance mea­sures of Syn­gen­ta Man­age­ment now also include met­rics ­asso­ci­at­ed with the tar­gets of The Good Growth Plan.
Work is still ongo­ing. Syn­gen­ta is con­tin­u­ing to fur­ther stream­line the report­ing process­es, embed them into the busi­ness and increase trans­paren­cy. The com­pa­ny is also improv­ing the rig­or of the report­ing process­es of oth­er mate­r­i­al non-finan­cial per­for­mance indi­ca­tors beyond those of The Good Growth Plan.

* The Good Growth Plan, goodgrowthplan.com

Robust Report­ing

An audi­tor nev­er pro­vides absolute or 100% cer­tain assur­ance – as there is always an opin­ion involved leav­ing room for inac­cu­ra­cies. Rea­son­able assur­ance means that a report is free from mate­r­i­al mis­state­ment as far as the audi­tor can judge.