A multi-stakeholder advisory group has begun an analysis of whether eventual work by ISO (International Organization for Standardization) to assist organizations in meeting their "social responsibilities" would represent an added value to programmes already existing.

The advisory group held its first meeting in Canada in January and scheduled a second for mid-February in Geneva, Switzerland. A report on its progress is expected to be presented to ISO Council at its 13-14 March 2003 meeting in Geneva.

The group is chaired by Daniel Gagnier, Senior Vice President, Corporate and External Affairs, of the Canadian multinational corporation, Alcan Inc., who also chairs ISO/TC 207, the ISO technical committee responsible for the ISO 14000 series of environmental management standards. The advisory group currently comprises 21 participants chosen to represent a wide spectrum of stakeholder interests, including business, government regulators, trade unions and consumers, as well as different geographic regions.

Its mandate is to recommend whether ISO should launch work on social responsibility and, if so, to advise on the scope of this work and the type of ISO document best suited. According to the market requirement identified, ISO can develop various documents ranging from International Standards to guides, technical reports and other types of voluntary agreement that differ according to their development process and to the status which they may be accorded - such as being adopted or referenced in governmental regulations. The recommendation will be considered first by ISO's Technical Management Board and a final decision made by ISO Council.

At the advisory group's first meeting, it began to examine the principles, characteristics and issues surrounding the many existing definitions of what usually comes under the umbrella term of "corporate social responsibility (CSR)".

During its first discussions, the advisory group reviewed several existing definitions of CSR and agreed that the principles of social responsibility apply not only to business enterprises, but to all types of organization, in both public and private sectors. Therefore, if ISO proceeds, any documented agreements it develops should apply to all organizations, not just to corporations. The advisory group has developed a provisional working definition of social responsibility as "a balanced approach for organizations to address economic, social and environmental issues in a way that aims to benefit people, communities and society".

The composition of the ISO advisory group may be fine-tuned to ensure even greater representation of groups with an interest in the social responsibility of businesses and other organizations. For the moment, the following organizations are represented:

  • Three from the Asia and Pacific region: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission; Industry Standards Committee for Petroleum and Gas, of Malaysia; Reitaku University, of Japan.
  • Three from Europe: Observatory on the Social Responsibility of Enterprises (ORSE), of France; Siemens, of Germany; Swedish Industry Association.
  • Three from the Americas: Ecofutoro Institute, of Brazil; Environmental Management Consultants of CV, of Mexico; Motorola, of the USA.
  • International organizations: Consumers International, Global Reporting Initiative, International Chamber of Commerce, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, International Federation of Standards Users, International Institute for Sustainable Development, International Labour Organization, International Organization of Employers.
  • ISO: ISO Central Secretariat; ISO/COPOLCO, Committee on consumer affairs.