Sustainable development goals: Sustainability reporting challenges in the United Arab Emirates context

Tariq Elrazaz, Ahmed Shaker Samaan, Moataz Elmassri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Drawing on legitimacy theory, this study examines the extent of corporate engagement with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) through assessing the corporate disclosure quality of SDG-related information in a mandated setting environment, focusing on the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Based on corporate sustainability reports for 132 UAE publicly listed companies in years 2020 and 20,221, we use a scoring methodology incorporating the GRI standards related to the economic, environmental and social impacts of corporate operations. Results of the study reveal that UAE companies use mandatory sustainability reports as a legitimacy tool through a symbolic action superficially integrating SDGs targets into their corporate operations and activities. However, in year 2021 the results show that some companies act substantively by adopting substantive organizational structural changes to integrate SDGs in their business operations and reporting behavior. Unlike previous studies, the paper contributes to the literature and practice by examining the corporate disclosure quality of SDGs in a mandated setting environment. This mandatory context offers an opportunity for a comprehensive analysis of company endeavors regarding their symbolic execution aimed at projecting a surface display of commitment to SDGs, versus their substantive implementation, which leads to significant enhancements in corporate sustainability reports. The findings of this study offer valuable practical implications for regulators and policymakers regarding the implementation of mandatory sustainability reporting. While such reporting may not necessarily result in significant changes in terms of integrating SDGs targets into business strategies and operations, it could potentially lead to the adoption of “SDG-washing” practices by companies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainable Development
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • United Arab Emirates
  • corporate disclosure quality
  • corporate social responsibility
  • legitimacy theory
  • sustainability reporting
  • sustainable development goals (SDGs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Development


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