In this contribution, we explore the tensions that seem inherent in the claim that transparency policies “empower” the users of disclosed information vis-àvis those who are asked to provide the information. Since these tensions are particularly relevant in relation to voluntary disclosure, our analysis focuses on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as the world's leading voluntary corporate non-financial reporting scheme. Corporate sustainability reporting is often hailed as a powerful instrument to improve the environmental performance of business and to empower societal groups, including consumers, in their relations with the corporate world. Yet, our analysis illustrates that the relationship between transparency and empowerment is conflictual at all four levels of activity examined in this article: in the rhetoric and policies of the GRI as well as in the actual reporting practice and in the activities of intermediaries in response to the organization's disclosure standard.
* For comments on earlier drafts, the authors thank Graeme Auld, Frank Biermann, Virginia Haufler, Lars Gulbrandsen, Aarti Gupta, Kristine Kern, Kris van Koppen, Arthur Mol and two anonymous reviewers for Global Environmental Politics.