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"ISO 26000 - so what?" ISO Secretary-General challenges international forum

by Maria Lazarte on
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As the ISO 26000 guidance standard on social responsibility reaches its second anniversary, ISO Secretary-General, Rob Steele, challenged participants at a two-day open forum in Geneva, Switzerland, to consider what has been done so far, and where the road should take us next, by asking, "So what?"

The ISO 26000 forum, organized by ISO and attended by some 300 participants from the private and public sectors, including national standards bodies, was an opportunity to share experience, best practice and lessons learned, as well as to highlight areas for improvement.

Taking place on 7-8 November, the objective of the forum was not to decide amendments to ISO 26000, or new work, but to provide ideas to the former joint secretariat of the ISO Working Group on Social Responsibility, comprising ISO members SIS (Sweden) and ABNT (Brazil), and through them to the ISO 26000 Post Publication Organization (PPO) for advice.

Rob Steele ISO Secretary-General, Rob Steele. (Photo: ISO/Egger)

Opening the event, Rob Steele declared: "All ISO standards are developed following the principles of transparency, openness, impartiality and consensus, effectiveness and relevance, coherence and following the development dimension. ISO 26000 is no exception.

"The ISO standards process is quite unique as a way of developing ideas and building consensus,” he said, underlining its multi-stakeholder approach. "It allows a group of people representing widely and passionately held views to come together and discuss and debate those views in an environment where all views will be heard and considered equally."

Mr. Steele invited participants at the open forum to join in a constructive dialogue, as there is always room for improvement, but warned, "Let's ensure that facts and real life experience support our discussions on ISO 26000 and its future."

For example, one concern expressed before publication of ISO 26000 was that standards were the root cause of technical barriers to trade cases brought before the World Trade Organization (WTO). Yet the Secretary of the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade committee had said earlier this week that although around one third of disputes did involve standards, these resulted from their not being used or being absent. "So the assertion is not and has never been true," concluded the ISO Secretary-General.

Jorge Cajazeira Chair of the ISO 26000 Post Publication Organization, Jorge Cajazeira. (Photo: ISO/Egger)

Chair of the ISO 26000 PPO, Jorge Cajazeira, emphasized the importance of ISO 26000 to meet the economic, environmental and societal challenges of a changing world. (Listen to an interview with Jorge Cajazeira talking about the lessons learnt from ISO 26000.)

Keynote speaker, Carlos Alberto Griner, Chief Human Resources Officer, Suzano Pulp and Paper, explained why its company strives for social responsibility: "We operate in a complex environment, in multiple cities, in a diverse context, and we believe that the best way to keep our business running is to balance the three aspects of the triple bottom line [economic, environmental and social sustainability]"

He presented case studies on implementation of the ISO 26000 guidance. For example, when constructing one of the most modern eucalyptus market pulp mill in the world in the poorest state in Brazil, the company opted for working with the local community, rather than bringing all the workforce and talent from outside. The result was that 60 % of the people involved were from the region, and more than 5 600 professionals were trained.

A Google search of ISO 26000 today returns over two million results. Kristina Sandberg, ISO 26000 PPO Secretary, reported on a survey conducted by the PPO. At least 60 countries have adopted the standard, and 20 more are considering following through. The text is now available in 22 languages. The survey showed that of the 74 countries who responded, 59 % believed that interest in the standard is growing. (Listen to an interview with Kristina Sandberg about this survey.)


Complete set of forum audio interviews.