ISO 26000, which gives organizations guidance on implementing social responsibility (SR), has successfully passed the last development phase and been approved for publication as an ISO International Standard. ISO targets publication on 1 November.

Rob Steele, ISO Secretary-General

Paying tribute to the "exemplary efforts" of the experts who developed the standard, ISO Secretary-General Rob Steele commented: "ISO 26000 will help organizations for whom operating in a socially responsible manner is more than 'just a nice idea' to implement social responsibility in a pragmatic way that targets performance. It will be a powerful tool to help organizations move from good intentions about SR to good actions."

ISO 26000 will provide harmonized, globally relevant guidance for private and public sector organizations of all types. The standard is the result of international consensus among expert representatives of the main stakeholder groups with an interest in the subject and is designed to encourage the implementation of best practice in social responsibility worldwide. The document distils global agreement on:

  • Definitions and principles of SR
  • The core issues to be addressed in implementing SR
  • Guidance on how to integrate SR throughout the operations of an organization.

A vote by ISO's worldwide membership of national standards institutes on the Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) version of ISO 26000 closed on 12 September. It was approved by 94 % of the countries voting, and largely supported by the liaison organizations who also participated in its development, opening the way to publication as a fully fledged International Standard.

Development of ISO 26000 was launched in 2005. The project was carried out by the multi-stakeholder ISO Working Group on Social Responsibility (ISO/WG SR), which included experts and observers from 99 ISO member countries – of which 69 were developing nations – and 42 public and private sector organizations. Six main stakeholder groups were represented: industry; government; labour; consumers: nongovernmental organizations; service, support, research and others, as well as a geographical and gender-based balance of participants. In all, some 400 people took part which made the working group ISO's biggest ever.

Jorge E.R. Cajazeira

The ISO/WG SR has a joint leadership provided by the ISO members for Brazil (ABNT) and Sweden (SIS). Reacting to the result of the FDIS vote, its Chair, Jorge E.R. Cajazeira, declared: "One future day, organizations will look at ISO 26000 and say 'How could we have survived in business without social responsibility?' And all because a team of dreamers tried to imagine just what the future could be, and then worked hard for five years to achieve the vision. I am proud to have participated in the leadership of such a dream."

Staffan Söderberg

Vice-Chair, Staffan Söderberg, had this to say: "Five years' work and we have a consensus on a 100-page guide on social responsibility containing seven principles, seven core issues and seven steps for implementation. A standard will never be better than the process through which it was developed and it is in large part thanks to the multistakeholder development process of ISO 26000 that we have achieved the strong voting result in favour of this final text. Now we hand over this amazing document to the real agents for change –  the people that use standards.”

ISO 26000 contains voluntary guidance and is not a specification document intended for third party certification like ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. ISO has emphasized that it will be vigilant in seeing that this is respected.

The guidance in ISO 26000 draws on best practice developed by existing public and private sector SR initiatives. It is consistent with and complements relevant declarations and conventions by the United Nations and its constituents, notably the International Labour Organization (ILO), with whom ISO has established a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ensure consistency with ILO labour standards. ISO has also signed MoUs with the United Nations Global Compact Office (UNGCO) and with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to enhance their cooperation on the development of ISO 26000.