Postcard from Portugal

Recently, I had a chance to join my colleague Petrus Gildenhuys as part of an AA1000 assurance assignment and visit Portugal. It was a beautiful drive to site: the undulating landscape was interrupted by idyllic villages, and we lost count of the number of storks we noticed along the way. The World Cup was dominating small talk, although it was starting to compete with news about the troubled Portuguese bank Banco Espirito Santo.

Banco Espirito Santo is an Equator Bank, which is a risk management framework, adopted by financial institutions, for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects finance and related transactions. Banco Espirito Santo is also an advanced sustainability reporter. It’s 280 page (!) integrated report from 2013 notes that its sustainability reporting was prepared in accordance with the GRI-G4 guidelines, the principles of accountability standard AA1000APS, and also followed the principles set out in the International Integrated Reporting Council (IRCC)’s framework for integrated reporting. To top it all off, the report also boasted a limited assurance provided by PWC.

Wow, I thought, how does this all dovetail with the crisis and concerns about opaque and messy corporate structure circulating in the media?! All smoke and mirror...?

But let me get back to my postcard. - Two memorable experiences deserve to be noted here: wondering about my retirement plans while sitting next to a couple of old guys enjoying the sunshine. Another memory was sitting outside and at the main village square while sipping a cold beverage listening to fado, the famed Portuguese traditional folk music. Although I missed having my family at my side to experience all of this with me, I also thought life could be worse...

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