Purpose – This study aims to contribute to the existing literature by presenting new knowledge about sustainable development goals’ (SDGs) reporting practices through integrated reporting (IR). This paper’s ultimate goal is to dig to light companies’ main approaches to incorporating SDG disclosures into IRs. Design/methodology/approach – This study puts forward both deductive content analysis and an inductive thematic analysis on a sample of worldwide leading IR adopters to assess what SDGs they disclose and how they integrate SDGs into the reports. Meaningful narratives and graphical illustrations are selected, categorised and discussed from a symbolic/substantive legitimacy perspective. Findings – The results of this study highlighted that although a fair number of leading IR adopters addressed SDG issues, their pathways to disclosure were not uniform. In some cases, SDGs inspired substantive changes to internal management and process, communicated through an integrated approach. However, there was a persistent trend of using SDGs as camouflage and symbolic tool to enhance company’s reputation and obtain a licence to operate. Originality/value – To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this was the first study that performed a deductive/inductive thematic analysis to engender insight into the most meaningful patterns followed by leading IR reporters worldwide to disclose their contributions to SDGs and address their legitimacy.
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