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The accountancy profession and its professional and social responsibility: a systems theoretical approach to social and ethical accounting.

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The accounting profession all over the world has found itself entangled in many scandals. Businesses, organizations and society at large rely on the financial information that is provided by the accounting profession. The financial information which accountants give remains critical to the overall economic wellbeing of society. In this regard, financial misinformation has led to serious economic crises in the world and sometimes to the collapse of powerful companies. Whilst the traditional understanding of the accounting profession was based on acquiring techniques and abiding by the codes of ethics that govern this profession, the experience of accountants is that their work place is characterized by chaos and complexity instead of orderliness which is implied in the codes and the popular technical practices of the profession that are mostly required in the office. Scholars have argued that the current type of education which is given to accounting students which is mainly based on technique acquisition does not prepare the student with professional competency when it comes to issues of ethical maturity which cannot be attained through the acquiring of professional qualification. The accountancy profession has a responsibility not only to shareholders or to the organizations which employed them but responsibility to stakeholders as well. The financial information which accountants provide is thus for the good of the whole of society and sometimes for the world as a whole. For this reason, some scholars have argued that accountants should be seen as guardians of the public interest. In the contemporary global neo-liberal capitalism, the question of whether accountants have any social responsibility when performing their professional responsibilities has been influenced by the debate on whether a business person has responsibilities towards society. The current global deregulation of financial markets has brought about the profession of accounting in a way that alienates the majority of the global citizens from benefiting from the financial information which is provided by this profession. The standardization of the global financial reporting is intended to facilitate the smooth flow of global capital in a way that serves the interests of investors, lenders and creditors who are in most cases the providers of capital on the global market. Accurate accounting and accountability are superficially undertaken with the aim of giving legitimacy to the shareholders of global capitalism. In light of the above observation, this study argues against the shareholder theory by insisting that shareholders are not the sole owners of business as there are others in society who are affected directly or indirectly by the activities of the business or organization. The implication of this argument is that the accounting profession must provide information that takes into consideration the expectations of all stakeholders. By adopting the stakeholder model of accounting,I have shown that monetary value requires reporting that takes into consideration social and environmental issues, which in most cases are not necessarily and solely determined by monetary value. The stakeholder perspective that has been adopted in this study finds its complementarity in general systems theory. Thus the accounting information as a sub-system should be seen as contributing to the suprasystem. Since systems theory is based on a holistic view of reality, it is argued that accounting education should be integrative whereby it incorporates information from other disciplines. From the perspective of general systems theory, any information that is provided should be seen as an abstraction from the suprasystem. Each system taken in isolation can only be seen as extending a partial view of reality. The study also argues that ethical and social accounting requires an inclusive approach in one’s professional outlook, especially when one takes into consideration the reality of complexity inherent in human society and social organization.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.