Taking a look at ISO 26000

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recently released a Draft International Standard providing guidance on social responsibility under the name ISO 26000. ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 162 countries, one member per country, with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland. ISO is a non-governmental organization that forms a bridge between the public and private sectors. On the one hand, many of its member institutes are part of the governmental structure of their countries, or are mandated by their government. On the other hand, other members have their roots uniquely in the private sector, having been set up by national partnerships of industry associations.[i] ISO 26000 is a voluntary measure that organizations have until February 14, 2010 to vote upon that attempts to formalize social responsibility standards across governments, organizations, and corporations globally. Although it is not a treaty per se, and affirmative voting is not in that way binding, governments may choose to adopt the document, or certain of its provisions into law. This is a common practice when ISO releases standards because they are typically developed by stakeholders, and therefore have broad support when they are released. ISO 26000 also borrows from some other well known and existing documents, particularly those of the UN, and therefore takes advantage of some long standing and broadly accepted practices. Following are ISO’s words on the scope and breadth of this initiative: ‘Organizations around the world, and their stakeholders, are becoming increasingly aware of the need for and benefits of socially responsible behaviour. The aim of social responsibility is to contribute to sustainable development. An organization's performance in relation to the society in which it operates and to its impact on the environment has become a critical part of measuring its overall performance and its ability to continue operating effectively. This is, in part, a reflection of the growing recognition of the need for ensuring healthy ecosystems, social equity and good organizational governance. In the long run, all organizations’ activities depend on the health of the world’s ecosystems. Organizations are subject to greater scrutiny by their various stakeholders, including customers or consumers, workers and their trade unions, members, the community, non-governmental organizations, students, financiers, donors, investors, companies and others. The perception and reality of an organization’s social responsibility performance can influence, among other things: competitive advantage; its reputation; its ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients or users; the maintenance of employees' morale, commitment and productivity; the view of investors, donors, sponsors and the financial community; and its relationship with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers and the community in which it operates. This International Standard provides guidance on the underlying principles of social responsibility, the core subjects and issues pertaining to social responsibility and on ways to integrate socially responsible behaviour into existing organizational strategies, systems, practices and processes. This International Standard emphasizes the importance of results and improvements in social responsibility performance. This International Standard is intended to be useful to all types of organizations in the private, public and non-profit sectors, whether large or small, and whether operating in developed or developing countries. While not all parts of this International Standard will be of equal use to all types of organizations, all core subjects are relevant to every organization. It is an individual organization's responsibility to identify what is relevant and significant for the organization to address, through its own considerations and through dialogue with stakeholders.’ [ii] This ambitious undertaking focuses on principles of social responsibility, including accountability, transparency, ethical behavior, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for the rule of law, respect for international norms of behavior and respect for human rights. Core areas of social responsibility addressed by ISO include; organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development. Although ISO 26000 is not a law, and is merely a set of standards, there are certainly economic implications to companies in deciding whether to adopt it. It is true that some standards create costs to companies in the form of compliance and oversight. This is particularly true of firms who manufacture overseas, outsource or otherwise have broad global operations. However there are benefits to adopting a standardized regime of principles. Aside from good will generated by being an ethical corporate neighbor, standards may force firms to work more efficiently as alternatives for environmentally unfriendly processes and products are utilized. Also, many companies either have, or are developing, similar standards. By adopting a uniform set of standards recognized by other firms, governments, consumers, and watchdog NGO’s alike, they can actually avoid the costs of developing, promoting, maintaining and enforcing their own standards in the future. Very little of the language of ISO 26000 should be controversial to large international corporations. True, there are provisions dealing with the environment, and clauses promoting the collective bargaining rights of employees may meet some resistance. However, the neutral nature of much of the draft, its adoption of already existing global standards, and the conciliatory tone of many of the key clauses should make it palatable for most major corporations. [i] http://www.iso.org/iso/about.htm [ii] http://isotc.iso.org/livelink/livelink/fetch/2000/2122/830949/3934883/3935837/ISO_DIS_26000_Guidance_on_Social_Responsibility.pdf?nodeid=8385026&vernum=0


  1. ISO's management and business standards and the adoption of them into any business have another economic impact, customers and relationships. Businesses not only depend on the consumer but supplies, distributors, and other intermediary relationships in order to form their final product Many companies will only do business with other company's that employ and meet ISO standards and practices. When a company is found to not be in ISO compliance and it is made public, many of its business relationship will drop them immediately, therefore in many industries it is not only encouraged to be ISO compliant but necessary.
    It is is a fiscal cost to employ ISO standards as well as any other set of standards, but it is always a cost benefit in the long run to have set and written standards and procedures for all business units & employees to follow.

    ~Brian K

  2. Excellent point, and one that certainly speaks further to the benefits firms see in adopting any set of standards, whether they be for social responsibility, safety, or anything else that is standardized.

    Your comment hints at exactly what drafters hope will make ISO 26000 so impactful; namely the fact that suppliers, shippers, distributors, and of course consumers will do business with compliant companies, and refuse to do so with those who are non-compliant. Therefore, simple economic pressures will far outweigh the costs of implementing and monitoring the standards themselves, leading to a homogeneous baseline of corporate responsibility.

    And, after all, what is better than doing good while you make money? I appreciate the insight!