Transparency and accountability in the ‘age of information’

Presented by ANU College of Law

'Transparency' and 'accountability' are much-touted values and/or processes of this 'information age'. We erect mandatory reporting schemes - from environmental impact to corporate governance to workplace gender quotas to child safety - on the premise that these might engender internal organisational behavioural change and, externally, facilitate both transparency and accountability.

In this seminar, Dr Jolyon Ford explores some design assumptions behind the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cwth), Australia's new non-punitive yet mandatory corporate reporting scheme on human rights risks in supply chains. Ford argues that schemes requiring the production of even more information into our data-saturated 'audit society' (Power 1999) - and associated rituals of verification - will not necessarily enable better decision-making, insight or oversight by external stakeholders. Ford argues that reporting may deliver a transparency paradox (too much information of doubtful utility) or transparency trap (reportees engage in narrow compliance-think, rather than solving problems) or transparency displacement (a scheme creates false reassurance and momentum for 'truer' transparency falls away). Ford will discuss his research agenda around how we conceptualise 'transparency' and 'accountability', how these relate to each other and to another concept ('responsibility'), and under what conditions information-based schemes (mere reporting) might potentially help realise those values.

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