Learning from the assurance process: British American Tobacco’s response to the 2008 assurance statement
An independent review of our approach is an essential part of our commitment to continuous improvement. Ernst & Young LLP carried out an independent review of our Sustainability Report and how it is aligned with the revised AA1000 Assurance Standard (AA1000AS). Our adoption of the updated AA1000AS resulted in an increased scope for the assurance, particularly in the assurance of data gathered from our companies and the assurance of our stakeholder engagement activity. This review process highlighted a number of strengths in our reporting process, as well as where improvements could be made.
In 2007, we carried out a three-stage materiality test to establish what issues we should include in this Report and we feel that this has accurately captured the most material issues for a tobacco business. Community investment was not considered to be an issue of high importance to the Group as a whole by those stakeholders who attended the formal dialogue sessions. However, we do accept that our reporting of economic impacts is not as advanced as we would like and that we could do more to explore in the Report the risks and opportunities that sustainability provides.
We think that we have made good progress in this area, including the strengthening of our risk management process to ensure that sustainability risks are adequately captured across the Group. We have also continued to engage with our stakeholders to ensure that our sustainability agenda remains relevant and have begun to address the issue of local materiality. We continue to report on our website issues that are not covered by our sustainability agenda, but are still of interest to our stakeholders.
Actions for us
- Continue to engage with stakeholders to ensure the relevance of our sustainability agenda; and
- Explore how we can better report on the economic impact of the business.
Ernst & Young LLP attended our London-based stakeholder dialogue events described in the stakeholder engagement section of this Report. These meetings were independently facilitated by Acona and were attended by senior management from British American Tobacco. Ernst & Young LLP concluded that there were no issues raised at dialogue that are not covered in this Report but did highlight the need to regularly review our stakeholder mapping process.
We have developed a methodology, issued guidance and delivered training to ensure a coordinated approach to dialogue across all participating Group companies. This places great emphasis on using dialogue to support mainstream business practice.
Actions for us
- Continue to develop our stakeholder engagement programme to focus on our most material issues; and
- Review our stakeholder mapping exercise.
Ernst & Young LLP concluded that we have been inclusive in our engagement of stakeholders across the business. However, they also shared our observation that some stakeholders often decline an invitation to engage with us because of the nature of our products.
Actions for us
- Continue to try and engage with our critics.
The principle of completeness is no longer a core element of AA1000AS. However, in response to the comments around completeness that were made by Ernst & Young LLP in our previous Sustainability Report, we have made a number of improvements in this area. We invested in new systems for the collection of Group CSR data, removing the need for a manual collation process at headquarters level and increasing the level of management challenge the data was subjected to. The new system has also resulted in a greater number of companies submitting data. Group companies representing over 96 per cent of our sales volume responded to our request for information and we believe the exclusion of the remainder does not materially affect the understanding of the Group performance. Where appropriate, we continue to set targets for data but acknowledge this as an area that requires further work.