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Sustainable development: Accounting and the citizen

Wednesday 26th April 2017 (18:00-19:00)
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Accountants are often blamed for driving us to make decisions that add to climate change, justify the pollution of air, land and sea, exploit natural resources and shrink workers’ wages while increasing corporate fat cats’ pay. Though in many cases this is true, it is not the whole story of the relationships between accounting, citizens and sustainable development. Accounting has infiltrated most social institutions and has a significant, if sometimes invisible, impact in the decisions that affect our life, economy and environment. Accounting is everywhere - although it relies on calculative rationality and complicated arithmetic, it is far from objective or neutral.

Research has uncovered many examples of how accounting has been used in a transformative way by civic society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), political institutions, citizens and business organisations. There are accounting practices that problematise socially irresponsible, oppressive and environmentally damaging actions and calculate the value of social justice, economic development and sustainable consumption. Sustainable development involves a diverse range of governance systems, related to the inter-connected social, economic and biophysical processes associated with our planet. There are many different ways in which accounting could and should be involved in sustainable development. This includes evaluating the capacity and rights of different groups and individuals, to provide accounts and participate in the governance of issues that impact their lives and their environment.

Professor Thomson’s lecture will present the concept of the citizen accounting, audit and accountability for sustainable transformation. Citizen accounting is an important missing piece of the accountability jigsaw. Mirroring developments in citizen journalism and citizen science, there is merit in developing the ‘citizen accountant’ and ‘citizen auditor’. Citizen accounting complements and challenges formal organisational accounts of their actions, and uses our individual capacity for collecting facts and stories. The lecture will use a range of examples, including 17th century air pollution in London, the contested development of salmon farming in Scotland, human rights abuse in Nigeria and political engagements on climate change.

Professor Ian Thomson is Professor of Accounting and Sustainability at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of current plans to promote sustainable accounting, creating solutions to unsustainable practices and designing of new sustainability-accounting hybrid practices. He has been the convener of the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research, a leading international research network, since 2012 and is on the editorial board of six academic journals. Prior to joining University of Birmingham, he was Professor of Accountancy at Heriot-Watt University and Strathclyde Business School. Professor Thomson is a Chartered Management Accountant; before becoming an academic, he held senior accounting positions in the NHS and BBC Scotland. 

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