Following ISO's international conference on social responsibility (SR) on 21-22 June 2004 in Stockholm, a decision on whether or not to recommend launching the development of standards or other ISO tools for this area is one of the main items on the agenda of a senior ISO management meeting in the Swedish capital on 24-25 June. The decision is expected to be announced early in the week of 28 June.

The conference, hosted by the Swedish Standards Institute (SIS), drew 355 participants from 66 countries, including 33 developing countries, representing major stakeholder groups: national standards institutes, business, government, labour, consumers, international and nongovernmental organizations. They discussed whether ISO should proceed with work addressing the social responsibility of organizations and, if so, what form it should take.

In the "wrap up" session to the conference, ISO's Vice-President (technical management), Ms. Ziva Patir, said that, based on consistent and supportive feedback from participants, the question seemed "no longer 'whether' ISO should proceed, but 'when, what and how to add value'" to existing SR programmes and initiatives. Underlining the substantial presence of many younger conference participants, she declared: "Social responsibility is the need of future generations and fits with the strategy of ISO to develop standards that are market relevant, globally relevant and that help to create a sustainable world."

Major input to the conference was provided by the work over 18 months of a multi-stakeholder advisory group (AG) on social responsibility set up by ISO in early 2003 to help it decide on eventual involvement in SR. The group developed a report including an overview of SR initiatives worldwide identifying issues that should be taken into account by ISO. It has concluded that ISO should go ahead with work on SR on condition that a set of key recommendations are met. Both the report and recommendations can be consulted on the dedicated SR Web site created by ISO.

ISO Deputy Secretary-General Kevin McKinley paid tribute during the conference wrap-up to the Advisory Group and its Chair, Daniel Gagnier, Senior Vice-President, External and Corporate Affairs, Alcan Inc.. "The AG has overall been 'on the mark'", he said. "The AG report and recommendations substantially address the key issues related to SR and standardization."

Speaking to journalists after the conference, Daniel Gagnier said: "There was an amazing degree of alignment between the AG report and the discussions among more than 300 stakeholders who came together at the conference to address the same issues. When you get that degree of consensus, you know you have a very solid piece of work."

The conference was notable for the strong participation by representatives from developing countries who, prior to the event, took part in a workshop organized by SIS with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), where they developed a consensus in favour of ISO work on SR. Ms. Patir commented to the press: "This unanimous position by 33 developing countries for ISO to undertake SR work is a very important message."