The Hidden Dimensions of Annual Reports: Sixty Years of Social Conflict at General Motors

Do annual reports ensure corporate accountability? Will they meet the information needs of the 21st century? No, according to Professor Marilyn Neimark. Annual reports are permeated by conflicts of interest on the part of the managements that prepare them and the auditors that examine them. For there to be genuine corporate accountability there must be an independent system for gathering information from corporations about their activities, for assessing the impact of these activities on the public, and for disseminating the findings to all those whose lives are affected by corporate decisions.

These are the conclusions of a study by Professor Neimark which analyzes sixty years of reporting of economic and social challenges at General Motors. Neimark compares GM’s annual reports year after year, checks continuity, unveils contradictions, and confronts the statements of GM management with reports in both mainstream and alternative media and scholarship. She reveals the hidden dimensions of annual reports — the contrast between what the reports say and what is really happening to the lives and livelihoods of the men and women who depend on GM for their employment and their transportation.

Marilyn K. Neimark is an associate professor of accountancy at Baruch College at CUNY, and is on the editorial boards of Advances in Public Interest Accounting and Critical Perspectives On Accounting. Her bi-weekly commentary on business and economic news is heard on WBAI Radio in New York City.