The social and environmental records of companies are coming under growing scrutiny as ''corporate social responsibility'' (CSR) joins ''socially responsible investment'' (SRI) in moving up the business agenda.

Just as pension funds must now at least have a policy on SRI, concern with companies' performance on CSR is migrating from May Day protests and agm demos to mainstream investor debate.

The message for private investors is that issues such as environmental sustainability, social justice, fair trade, and stakeholder dialogue are gradually seeping out from the world of ethical/SRI funds, which exclude ''bad'' companies or cherrypick ''good'' ones, and into serious company analysis.

This month sees a record number of resolutions at company annual meetings on non-financial issues. At BP's meeting last month, a shareholder resolution calling on BP to report its business strategy in response to climate change won 7.5% of the vote.

Several major US corporations are now saying they will work towards the Kyoto targets on emissions, notwithstanding President Bush's stance.

ExxonMobil has tried, but failed, to disallow a resolution for its meeting on May 30 calling on directors to consider social and environmental performance when determining executive pay. The company's Esso forecourts, meanwhile, have been targeted in a celebrity boycott in protest against ExxonMobil's links with Bush.

In March, index provider FTSE launched the FTSE4Good indices, intended to reflect good practice in corporate responsibility globally. Last month, the Assocation of British Insurers said it would introduce guidelines on what constitutes SRI for its 400 members who control a quarter of the stock market.

And Morley Fund Management, with #100bn of assets, has said it will vote against the annual accounts of FTSE-100 companies unless they include an environmental report.

This week Premier Oil released a social & environmental performance report based on 18 months' work, extensive consultations, auditing by independent consultants, and verification by academics. Premier said the comprehensive detail was unique for a company of its size.

The value and precision of such reporting was the key issue at a conference on ''accountability and governance'' staged in Glasgow last week and chaired by Professor Carol Adams.

Adams, a professor of accounting at Glasgow University and an authority in social reporting, told the conference - which was attended by 20 corporations as well as fund managers and academics - that most of the new breed of social and environmental reports produced by big companies were ''probably not worth taking the time to read''.

They were incomplete, omitting areas of key importance to stakeholders - customers, employees, and the community - Adams said.

She added: ''The violence of May Day protests can be put down to a minority, but the majority of the world's people are affected by the impacts of companies and the concerns are growing.''

By addressing the issues of sustainability and social

justice, companies minimised the risk of consumer boycott and maximised their chances

of attracting and retaining

talented staff. ''People like to work for ethical organisations,'' Adams said.

Professor Rob Gray, of the university's centre for social and environmental accounting research, said that, in spite of praiseworthy efforts by some companies, the present documents amounted to ''cherry-picking'' information, and had not led to any change in real accountability or to policies promoting genuine sustainability. ''Government must take back responsibility to determine the rules,'' he said.

But Mark Goyder, director of the Centre for Tomorrow's Company, said it was up to business to lead. ''It is impossible to maintain a situation where a business has one department somewhere which is dealing with the pressures of society and another department dealing with the pressures of investors,'' Goyder said. ''More and more, these pressures are converging.''

Under the new company law, firms could begin to move closer to ''triple bottom line'' accounting, with social and environmental audits alongside the financial, Goyder added.

Adams said ScottishPower's environmental report was an example of good practice in setting clear targets.

Fred Dinning, ScottishPower's corporate environment director, told the conference: ''Companies are facing important decisions on their international position on key issues such as climate change, now that the US and Europe have gone different routes. Nonetheless, these are the issues and we are moving ahead quickly on renewables and energy conservation. We believe they are a good way forward.''

Dinning said ScottishPower's development of renewable energy sources in the US demonstrated its commitment to the Kyoto protocol. The company was shortly to publish an environmental policy to 2010, but had already set public targets, including the sourcing of 10% of its UK supply from renewable energy.

But Dinning said that, like many other companies, ScottishPower did not have a model for producing a comprehensive social report.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has begun work on its first

community and environmental report, building on the work of NatWest which was prominent in the promotion of CSR.

Water company AWG, which took over Morrison Group last year, is extending its employee volunteering scheme worldwide. ''Give me five'' matches every five hours of community work by the employee with one hour of company time and will now operate from company bases in the Czech Republic, Chile, and Thailand as well as the UK. Crucially for shareholders, AWG says the scheme is already benefiting staff recruitment, retention, and morale - thus paying a financial dividend.

Will Hutton, chief executive of the Industrial Society, has called on the government to ''put corporate Britain on notice'' that it must adopt CSR measures or face legal sanctions.

Hutton, in a new essay called ''Putting back the P in plc'', says ministers should declare that they ''expect the culture and attitudes inherent in triple bottom line accounting, CSR, community investment, ethical practice and sustainable growth to be embodied by the business community within five years''.

He concludes: ''We need to get beyond a debate in which we appeal to companies to behave well because it will be in their best interests. For, while that may be true for some companies, it is not necessarily true for all.''

From a different direction, Hutton's view meets that of a paper published this week by the Institute of Economic Affairs. Martin Wolf, of the Financial Times, reviewing it sympathetically, said: ''The role of well-run companies is to make profits, not save the planet. Let them not make the mistake of confusing the two.''