ISO 26000 Putting Social Responsibility to Work

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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. …