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    ISO 26000: Putting social responsibility to work


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2010

    Recognition of the need for more ethically responsible business practices has seen the emergence of a strong global movement to embrace and promote the concept of social responsibility (SR).

    Although initially focusing on adoption by business and requiring businesses to look beyond short-term profitability to the needs of the wider community, SR should be seen in a wider context, being applicable to all types of organizations, both public and private.

    In the debate about the reach and relevance of SR there have been faltering attempts to arrive at agreed definitions and ways to expand its spread. However, the ISO has taken a major step forward in the wider adoption of SR by opening the way for the publication of ISO 26000, which gives guidance on social responsibility as an International Standard by the end of 2010.

    The future International Standard ISO 26000 'Guidance on social responsibility' will provide harmonized, globally relevant guidance for private and public sector organizations based on international consensus among expert representatives of the main stakeholder groups and so encourage the implementation of SR worldwide.

    The multi-stakeholder ISO Working Group on Social Responsibility (ISO/WG SR) approved the draft ISO 26000 for processing as a Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) at its 8th plenary meeting from 17 to 21 May 2010 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

    During the meeting, ISO Secretary-General Rob Steele underlined the value of broad stakeholder input, including the significant input by developing countries. 'One of the key arguments that resulted in the recommendation to proceed with the development of ISO 26000 was that the ISO standards development process would maximize involvement,' he said. 'One of the key groups advocating this argument was developing countries, and the point resonated with everyone.' He also reiterated the market expectations for ISO 26000, which include:

    • Global agreement on SR definitions and on the principles of SR
    • Global agreement on the core subjects of SR
    • Guidance on how to integrate SR throughout an organization.

    What is ISO 26000?

    ISO 26000 is intended for use by organizations of all types, in both the public and the private sectors, in developed and developing countries, as well as economies in transition. It will encourage socially responsible operations in the manner society increasingly demands. ISO 26000 contains guidance, not requirements, and is therefore not suitable for use in third-party certification. ISO will be vigilant in seeing that this is respected.

    Why is ISO 26000 important?

    Sustainable business for organizations means not only providing products and services that satisfy the customer, without jeopardizing the environment, but also operating in a socially responsible manner. Pressure to do so comes from customers, consumers, governments, associations and the public. Far-sighted organizational leaders recognize that lasting success requires credible business practices and the prevention of such activities as fraudulent accounting and labour exploitation.

    There have been a number of high-level declarations of principle related to SR and there are many individual SR initiatives. The challenge is how to put the principles into practice when even the understanding of what 'social responsibility' means may vary. Previous initiatives have tended to focus on corporate social responsibility, while ISO 26000 will provide SR guidance not only for business organizations, but also for public sector organizations of all types.

    ISO's expertise is in developing harmonized international agreements based on double levels of consensus - among the principal categories of stakeholder and among countries (ISO is a network of national standards bodies of 163 countries). ISO 26000 will distil an understanding of what social responsibility is and what organizations need to do to be socially responsible.

    How will ISO 26000 help organizations?

    ISO 26000 will help all types of organization to operate in a socially responsible manner by providing guidance on:

    • Concepts, terms and definitions
    • The background, trends and characteristics of social responsibility
    • Principles and practices
    • Core subjects and issues
    • Integrating, implementing and promoting socially responsible behaviour throughout organizations
    • SR's sphere of influence
    • Identifying and engaging with stakeholders
    • Communicating commitments and performance related to social responsibility.

    The guidance in ISO 26000 is intended to be understandable - even to non-specialists - as well as objective.

    How does ISO 26000 relate to existing good work?
    The guidance in ISO 26000 draws on best practice developed by existing public and private sector SR initiatives. It is consistent with, and complements, relevant United Nations declarations and conventions and its constituents, notably the International Labour Organization (ILO), with whom ISO has established a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ensure consistency with ILO labour standards. ISO has also signed MoUs with the United Nations Global Compact Office and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to enhance their cooperation on the development of ISO 26000.
    Who is developing ISO 26000?
    Experts and observers from 99 ISO member countries, of which 69 are from developing countries, and 42 organizations with liaison status are participating in the ISO/WG SR under the joint leadership of the ISO members for Brazil (ABNT) and Sweden (SIS). Six main stakeholder groups are represented: industry; government; labour; consumers; non-governmental organizations; and service, support, research and others; as well as a geographical and gender-based balance of participants.When will ISO 26000 be published?

    ISO 26000 has been released for a two-month FDIS vote by ISO member countries from mid-July to mid-September, followed by the publication of an ISO International Standard.

    ISO 26000

    Guidance on social responsibility

    ISO 26000 is due to be published in late 2010.
    For more information on ISO 26000 and the ISO/WG SR, see www.iso.org/sr.

    Working documents including the latest available draft of the standard can be accessed at: www.iso.org/wgsr.


    with the ISO 14000 family of International Standards

    Since first released in 1998, the ISO 14000 standards have achieved a worldwide impact in providing comprehensive solutions to the range of environmental challenges facing business, government and society.

    The best known of these standards is ISO 14001:2004. It is currently used by organizations in more than 150 countries as a framework for environmental management systems (EMS) to manage better the impact of their activities on the environment and to demonstrate sound environmental management.

    ISO 14004:2004 gives general EMS guidelines with other standards and guidelines in the family addressing specific environmental aspects, including labelling, performance evaluation, life-cycle analysis, communication and auditing.

    ISO has also launched an updated CD-ROM collection of the ISO 14000 family of environmental management standards that includes new or updated standards for use in climate change programmes, environmental labelling, life-cycle analysis and environmental communication.

    Environmental management - The ISO 14000 family of International Standards and the CD-ROM, ISO 14000, Environmental management, are available from the ISO store at www.iso.org/iso/store.htm.