Feature: ESG Reports (II) – When translation hits the wall
Published on 31 May 2022 by Jeffrey Wan
The 2021 ESG Summit will be held in Ireland on 31 May, while the World Environment Day is set on 5 June. Welcoming the two, we’ll be looking at the ESG reports of listed companies in Hong Kong and the challenges and future direction of translation of these reports in three consecutive feature articles.
In our first article of this ESG series, we talked about what an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) report is. While ESG reports and annual reports are both examples of disclosure documents of listed companies, in contrast, there’re two characteristics that make translation tasks of ESG reports more challenging – quantity and quality.
First, Quantity. ESG reports tend to have a generous amount of new content. Due to the ever-changing nature of the environment and society, in general, an ESG report would describe plenty of new policies, awards and activities related to environmental protection, philanthropy and employee benefits, etc. In particular, large listed companies would take the opportunity to enhance their corporate image by providing massive amount of updates in their ESG reports. When drafting such completely new materials, the copy-and-paste approach simply wouldn’t fit as extensively as writing annual reports. In fact, compared with previous year’s ESG report, it may only have a 10-20% match.
Second, Quality. Many companies would include their ESG reports as part of their corporate image boost to highlight their competitive advantages. Therefore, contents that are closely related to the life of the general public and investors, especially environmental protection, employment equality and health, social care and support and even anti-epidemic measures which has been a hot topic for the past two years, are usually written, or copywritten, in a slightly more cordial and softer tone, with a little touch of friendly polish to maintain a closer relationship with stakeholders.
As a result, for conventional industry players in the translation field, such as translation firms and printers, the above characteristics of quantity and quality bring up the biggest challenge: time. Given the extra time required for fine polishing, brushing up and even copywriting up to the clients’ requirement on tone and manner, together with the large amount of new information as a multiplier, the first draft of translation can be quite time-consuming. Furthermore, a bit of insider observation, in Hong Kong and China where Chinese is the mother-tongue, translators are generally better at English-to-Chinese translation than the other way round. Yet, as a matter of fact, quite some listed companies from Mainland China choose to draft their ESG reports in Chinese and look for English translation. It’s therefore not an easy task for traditional financial translation firms and printers to translate ESG reports within the short timeframe given. If a listed company wants to incorporate its ESG report in its annual report and publish in one go, it can double the workload of a translator during the peak season of annual reporting period! Recalling a few years back at the first launch of the disclosure requirements for ESG reports, quite some experienced translators found it rather draining to take!
So, we now understand that TIME is the greatest bottleneck for translating ESG reports. We then come up to question that, rather than hiring more translators to share the workload, is there any other solution? We’ll look into that next week.