Executive briefing on ISO 26000
The future International Standard ISO 26000, Guidance on social responsibility, will provide harmonized, globally relevant guidance for private and public sector organizations of all types based on international consensus among expert representatives of the main stakeholder groups and so encourage the implementation of best practice in social responsibility worldwide.
SMEs, ISO 26000 and social responsibility
The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has carried out a global assessment of how relevant SMEs perceive SR and ISO 26000 to be.
ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, has decided to launch the development of an International Standard providing guidelines for social responsibility (SR).
The guidance standard will be published in 2010 as ISO 26000 and be voluntary to use. It will not include requirements and will thus not be a certification standard.
There is a range of many different opinions as to the right approach ranging from strict legislation at one end to complete freedom at the other. We are looking for a golden middle way that promotes respect and responsibility based on known reference documents without stifling creativity and development.
Our work will aim to encourage voluntary commitment to social responsibility and will lead to common guidance on concepts, definitions and methods of evaluation.
The need for organizations in both public and private sectors to behave in a socially responsible way is becoming a generalized requirement of society. It is shared by the stakeholder groups that are participating in the WG SR to develop ISO 26000: industry, government, labour, consumers, nongovernmental organizations and others, in addition to geographical and gender-based balance.
ISO has chosen SIS, Swedish Standards Institute and ABNT, Brazilian Association of Technical Standards to provide the joint leadership of the ISO Working Group on Social Responsibility (WG SR). The WG SR has been given the task of drafting an International Standard for social responsibility that will be published in 2010 as ISO 26000.
We invite you to come and learn more about SR.
We also welcome you to support the ISO SR Trust Fund.
ISO 26000: the story so far
The sixth meeting of the development of ISO 26000, guidelines for social responsibility, has just been held in Santiago, but is it moving forward? who is involved in its development, gives his inside opinion
Work first started on ISO 26000 in 2005, with the aim of producing a guideline document for social responsibility. It came as a response to the growing need for organizations to consider the more tangible implications of how they operate in an increasingly globalized economy. The introduction to the draft standard explains why ISO decided to develop the standard:
‘Organizations around the world, as well as their stakeholders, are becoming increasingly aware of the need for socially responsible behaviour. As varying interpretations of social responsibility exist, an internationally accepted standard may be of benefit in helping to achieve a common perspective and understanding about the principles and practices of social responsibility. The aim of social responsibility is to contribute to sustainable development, health and the welfare of society.’
ISO 26000 will give guidance on subjects such as human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues and community involvement and development. An organization’s perception of social responsibility is paramount; it is key to gaining and retaining employees, attracting customers and stakeholders and keeping its reputation impeccable, all of which will be covered in the standard.
ISO 26000 is going to be a huge beast; a very large number of people are involved in its creation. The fact that it’s a consensus-based approach, coupled with the polarity of opinions, means that its gestation is a very slow process. The most obvious basic tension is between those trying to extend the responsibility of the organization and others who are trying to rationalize it.
Because of the subject matter, it has quite rightly been deemed socially responsible to engage with the right people, so considerable lengths have been taken in order to ensure this is the case. For example, if developing countries are less able to attend the meeting for financial reasons, funding is available. However, one weakness of the arrangements is that the drive for balance and equality has, in some cases, taken precedence over selecting candidates who have the right skills to convene very complex meetings.
At first, and arguably currently, not all stakeholders felt a standard was necessary. As an illustration, at an industry meeting in Stockholm, before the working group was formed, the question was asked, should this standard exist? There was a groundswell of opinion largely from developed countries that progress in this area was robust and a standard would not add value. In contrast, various developing countries felt strongly that there was a need for the standard, in order to help better manage the impact that world trade was having on their societies and environments. Clearly, given this insight, it was quite wrong to oppose the standard’s development.
Some early objections to the development of the standard were founded around a concern that ISO 26000 will migrate into a normative standard that a company becomes certified to – or it will be misused to achieve similar ends. This would see sensible guidance being used as mandatory requirements and that was not felt appropriate to the spirit of the undertaking. However, with ISO 26000 as a guideline, it can be carried out voluntarily, at an organisation’s own pace. This will make the use of the document simpler for those further down the maturity curve on social responsibility.
Things are now moving along at pace. After working the fourth draft there were 5,000 comments received, all of which we are duty bound to address. These comments were put into five contentious areas, which we are working on:
- international norms of behaviour
- nature of reference to social responsibility initiatives
- nature of reference to government
- sphere of influence
- pick and choose (including issues pertaining to setting priorities, and relevance and significance)
The role of government is important to address. The standard is not intended to undermine, replace or be used as government legislation or be used as an inter-governmental instrument but it could be usefully used by governments in their role as employers and procurers in the same manner as other organisations.
A strange quirk of this standard-making process is the existence of memorandums of understanding (MOU) with specific organizations. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has one such MOU with the ISO technical management board. This is an effort to ensure the ILO guidelines are given adequate treatment within the standard. On the face of it, this could be considered sensible but in a truly balanced stakeholder-driven process, is it right? Moreover, if these guidelines already exist and are sound in their own right, why duplicate in this standard? Why not provide guidance on how to work with them and other good sources of advice and information?
Where is it heading?
Despite ongoing debates, what we have now is a very good document. It is applicable as guidance to all organizations, although whether uptake will be the same is a different question. To be socially responsible is a big thing for an organization and it’s irrelevant to your size and capacity. This standard has inherent credibility because of the way it’s been born, with such a broad involvement in the process. It has taken three and a half years to get this far, but the optimism at the end of the last meeting was the best I’ve ever seen it. It’s a substantial piece of work and a commensurate amount of effort has gone into it.