Sustainable business practices are fundamental for the future of business,
society and the environment within which business operates. In this journey,
stakeholders provide a sustainability compass that must be consulted by
companies in determining and realigning the business context to their legitimate
needs. Businesses have constantly been accused of an imperious attitude
towards stakeholders that manifests in one directional conversations designed
to manage rather than engage and report objectively on the state of their
relationship with stakeholders.
Whilst much exploration has been conducted on stakeholder engagement, the
cardinal objective of this research was to explore the role of this engagement in
determining the gradation of issues in the businesses’ sustainability reporting
process. A review of other significant scholarly material highlighted gaps in the
realm of this broad subject that were used in the construct of the research
questions. Data in this qualitative study was obtained from sustainability
practitioners employed by companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock
Exchange. This was achieved through content analysis of their reports and
structured in-depth interviews that sought to understand the materiality concept
through their stakeholder engagement process.
The findings suggest that stakeholder engagement and materiality
determination in particular is a complex area fraught with a lot of challenges as
well as diversity in approach and purpose. The findings also suggested that the
determination of the sustainability content is a unilateral process instituted and
guided by the reporting entity with no involvement of other stakeholders beyond
the data-gathering phase.