• Charika Channuntapipat

Student thesis: Phd


SUSTAINABILITY ASSURANCE IN PRACTICE: EVIDENCE FROM ASSURANCE PROVIDERS IN THE UNITED KINGDOMCharika ChannuntapipatThe University of Manchester, Doctor of PhilosophySustainability assurance (hereafter 'SA') has been a significant area of development in corporate reporting during the last two decades, but one that so far has been subject to limited research. Existing studies in this field have mainly focused on SA opinions, and have tried to understand the characteristics of, and the elements included in, assurance statements, instead of enquiring beyond such outputs to obtain evidence from SA providers themselves. This thesis aims to provide insights into the SA process regarding how decisions in the process are made and what could influence such decisions. It aims to understand what SA practice actually is by examining SA providers' understandings of the meaning of the practice and the influences that such understandings have on the actual assurance process. Hence, the study focuses on the development of SA practice from the perspective of the assurance providers. It focuses on issues beyond the content of the SA statements to explore the processes leading to the actual delivery of such statements and a wide range of factors that influence the production of such statements and the development of SA practice in general.This study employs a qualitative research approach, using semi-structure interviews as the main data collection method supplemented by various textual data sources. Research participants are SA providers in the UK, including accounting and non-accounting assurance providers. Drawing on the perspective of actor-network theory (ANT), the thesis focuses on the associations involving both human (e.g. assurance providers, reporting organisations, and stakeholders) and non-human (e.g. reporting guidelines, and assurance standards) elements shaping the assurance practice. The theoretical framework based on ANT allows the flexibility in exploring important issues by following the actors, their associations, and their influence on the practice.The findings show that assurance providers' understandings of the assurance practice vary significantly and that such variation has a major effect on how the assurance practice is conducted. The assurance providers may perceive their roles as independent assurance providers but also adopt other roles to match with the interests and demands of various constituencies. The study shows, in particular, that the providers' perceived roles vary between what can be termed an 'independent verifier', a 'sustainability consultant' and a 'sustainability promoter', depending on the way in which they place importance on assurance- as against sustainability-related elements of the assurance process. Their different perceptions of their roles influence the internal dynamics of how assurance engagements are conducted. In particular, the study identifies four types of SA engagements, namely 'social assurance', 'integrated assurance', 'formative assurance' and 'compliance assurance'. Such a categorisation provides a broad-based understanding of the SA as a practice field and the degree of heterogeneity within it.This study provides methodological and empirical contributions by providing evidence on the process associated with SA practice through interviews with different types of organisations providing SA services. Moreover, basing the theoretical framework on ANT highlights the interactions between different actors as a part of the development of SA practice and offers a new perspective to explore the practice and factors influencing its development.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorWilliam Turley (Supervisor) & Anna Samsonova - Taddei (Supervisor)


  • Sustainability assurance
  • Non-financial assurance
  • Assurance provider
  • Actor-network theory

Cite this