The Development and Use of Standards by Non-state Actors: A Study of the Dynamics of Regulating Sustainability Assurance

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


Non-state actors have been increasingly engaged in regulation, operating and setting rules outside of, and parallel to, existing legal institutions. These “alternative to legal rules” have been increasingly influential in domestic law and policy, with growing evidence of them penetrating legal, professional, as well as social orders. This thesis adopts the case of sustainability assurance to analyze regulation through standards by the accountancy profession, in an area outside its core competence. The thesis focuses on how sustainability assurance standards by non-state actors are developed at the international level, and with the case of Sweden, how standards in this area are developed and used at a national level. This thesis has drawn on the applied socio-legal perspective, which enables looking beyond the ontological rule model used in traditional legal research. The analysis had been conducted using multi-paradigms to capture the context, in which sustainability assurance standards were drafted and applied; the developments in the contents of standards; and the dynamic interaction between the two, in regulating sustainability assurance.
Empirical evidence shows the presence of polymorphous actors that brought competing concepts and regulatory logic into the space. The patterns of influence in the regulatory space highlight the normative challenges of decentred regulation. The empirical observations of standards in action provided insights on how standards work as a regulatory instrument, its properties and inherent limitations. Findings show that the scope, linguistic structure and character of standards affect how and who interprets the standard. The analysis of the Swedish case led to the conclusion that the distribution of discretion in a multi-levelled regulatory regime depended on the choices exercised by standard setters at each level.
At the international level, the AA1000AS by AccountAbility remains the only international standard drafted specifically to guide sustainability assurance. Unless national sustainability assurance standards are available, assurance providers from the accountancy profession continue to apply ISAE3000. Sustainability assurance engagements performed by the accountancy profession in Sweden are guided by RevR6. RevR6(2006) was aligned with ISAE3000 that represents the accountancy profession’s conceptual understanding of assurance. The amorphousness of RevR6(2006) allowed engagements to suit practical circumstances and assurance providers to customise the scope of the assurance to each engagement. Sustainability assurance however, is potentially supervised by the Supervisory Board of Public Accountants, based on the legal concept of an audit. The case shows a fragmentation of systems, within which sustainability assurance engagements operate which potentially lead to uncertainty and systemic challenges.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Law


  • International standards on assurance engagements, Regulatory Space, Accountancy Profession, Decentred regulation, Standards, Non-state actors, Ustainability, Assurance
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2011 Dec 8
  • Lund University (Media-Tryck)
Print ISBNs978-91-7473-192-7
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2011-12-08 Time: 10:00 Place: EC3-210 External reviewer(s) Name: Owen, David Title: Emeritus Professor Affiliation: Nottingham University, UK ---