The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Committee for consumer policy, ISO/COPOLCO, is recommending the establishment of a multi-stakeholder strategic advisory group to explore further the issue of whether or not the organization should launch the development of standards for Corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The recommendation was formulated at the ISO/COPOLCO workshop, hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS) on 10 June 2002 in Port of Spain on the theme of Corporate social responsibility - Concepts and solutions.

Some 170 representatives from business, industry, consumer organizations and standards bodies from throughout the world, as well as international organizations, attended the Trinidad workshop to examine the feasibility and needs for ISO to develop internationally accepted parameters and to recommend the type of document that would best serve the required uses.

In the view of many workshop speakers and participants, a wide range of stakeholders stand to win from the creation of a management system standard - along the lines of ISO 9000 (quality management) and ISO 14000 (environmental management) - or an alternative ISO instrument for corporate social responsibility (CSR), including businesses, the consumers, employees and workers, and local communities.

The research undertaken by the COPOLCO working group studying the question suggested, said Dr. Kernaghan Webb, author of the working group Report on the desirability and feasibility of ISO Corporate social responsibility standards, "that in recognition of the wide variation in operating conditions from firm to firm, sector to sector, and country to country, there is a strong need to devise approaches to corporate responsibility which are flexible and practical so that they can be used by small, medium and large businesses operating in both developed and developing countries."

However, cautioned Dr. Webb, "ISO standards would be only part of an effective response to that challenge, focusing on management system standards which assist in operationalizing CSR responsibilities within a firm but do not by and of themselves set prescriptive substantive performance obligations." A management system standard would need to be used in combination with other legal or regulatory tools developed by international organizations.

"It was most encouraging at this workshop to see industry, businesses, the consumer organizations and the standards community seeking to reach consensus on this important issue, and to look for a cohesive, constructive way forward. We have made a very good start for finding common ground, and hope we have come one step closer to considering corporate social responsibility standards a reality," said Mrs. Caroline Warne, Chair of COPOLCO.