ISO 26000 was developed to respond to a growing world need for clear and harmonized best practice on how to ensure social equity, healthy ecosystems and good organizational governance, with the ultimate objective of contributing to sustainable development.

To increase awareness and understanding of what the standard involves and how it was developed, ISO has published two informative brochures, which are partly reproduced here :

  • ISO 26000 project overview
  • Discovering ISO 26000.

The full texts are freely available at www.iso.org/iso/social_responsibility .

What is ISO 26000?

ISO 26000 gives guidance on SR. It integrates international expertise on social responsibility – what it means, what issues an organization needs to address in order to operate in a socially responsible manner, and what is best practice in implementing SR.

It is intended for use by organizations of all types, in both public and private sectors, in developed and developing countries, as well as in economies in transition. ISO 26000 is a powerful SR tool to assist organizations to move from good intentions to good actions.

ISO 26000 contains voluntary guidance, not requirements, and therefore is not for use as a certification standard like ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 14001:2004.

Why is social responsibility important?

Organizations around the world, and their stakeholders, are becoming increasingly aware of the need for and benefits of socially responsible behaviour. The objective of social responsibility is to contribute to sustainable development.

An organization’s performance in relation to the society in which it operates and to its impact on the environment has become a critical part of measuring its overall performance and its ability to continue operating effectively. This is, in part, a reflection of the growing recognition of the need to ensure healthy ecosystems, social equity and good organizational governance. In the long run, all organizations’ activities depend on the health of the world’s ecosystems. Organizations are subject to greater scrutiny by their various stakeholders.

Why is ISO 26000 important?

Sustainable business for organizations means not only providing products and services that satisfy the customer, and doing so without jeopardizing the environment, but also operating in a socially responsible manner.

Pressure to do so comes from customers, consumers, governments, associations and the public at large. At the same time, farsighted organizational leaders recognize that lasting success must be built on credible business practices and the prevention of such activities as fraudulent accounting and labour exploitation.

On the one hand, there has been a number of high-level declarations of principle related to SR and, on the other, there are many individual SR programmes and initiatives. The challenge is how to put the principles into practice and how to implement SR effectively and efficiently when even the understanding of what “ social responsibility ” means may vary from one programme to another. In addition, previous initiatives have tended to focus on “corporate social responsibility”, while ISO 26000 provides SR guidance not only for business organizations, but also for public sector organizations of all types.

ISO’s expertise is in developing harmonized international agreements based on double levels of consensus – among the principal categories of stakeholder, and among countries (ISO is a network of the national standards bodies of 163 countries). ISO 26000 distils a globally relevant understanding of what social responsibility is and what organizations need to do to operate in a socially responsible way.

What benefits can be achieved by implementing ISO 26000?

The perception and reality of an organization’s performance on social responsibility can influence, among other things :

  • Competitive advantage
  • Reputation
  • Ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients or users
  • Maintenance of employees’ morale, commitment and productivity
  • View of investors, owners, donors, sponsors and the financial community
  • Relationship with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers and the community in which it operates.

Who can benefit from ISO 26000 and how?

ISO 26000 provides guidance for all types of organization, regardless of their size or location, on :

  • Concepts, terms and definitions related to social responsibility
  • Background, trends and characteristics of social responsibility
  • Principles and practices relating to social responsibility
  • Core subjects and issues of social responsibility
  • Integrating, implementing and promoting socially responsible behaviour throughout the organization and, through its policies and practices, within its sphere of influence
  • Identifying and engaging with stakeholders
  • Communicating commitments, performance and other information related to social responsibility.

ISO 26000 is intended to assist organizations in contributing to sustainable development. It is intended to encourage them to go beyond legal compliance, recognizing that compliance with law is a fundamental duty of every organization and an essential part of their social responsibility. It is intended to promote common understanding in the field of social responsibility, and to complement other instruments and initiatives for social responsibility, not to replace them.

In applying ISO 26000, it is advisable that an organization take into consideration societal, environmental, legal, cultural, political and organizational diversity, as well as differences in economic conditions, while being consistent with international norms of behaviour.

What does ISO 26000 contain?

The contents of ISO 26000 is structured as follows :

  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • 1 – Scope
  • 2 – Terms and definitions
  • 3 – Understanding social responsibility
  • 4 – Principles of social responsibility
  • 5 – Recognizing social responsibility and engaging stakeholders
  • 6 – Guidance on social responsibility core subjects
  • 7 – Guidance on integrating social responsibility throughout an organization
  • Annex A – Examples of voluntary initiatives and tools for social responsibility
  • Annex B – Abbreviated terms
  • Bibliography.

The guidance provided in these sections is intended to be clear and understandable – even to non-specialists – as well as objective and applicable to all types of organization, including big business and small and medium-sized enterprises, public administrations and governmental organizations. How does ISO 26000 relate to existing good work?

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.

ISO 26000

How did the ISO 26000 initiative come about?

The need for ISO to work on an SR standard was first identified in 2001 by the ISO Committee on consumer policy (ISO/COPOLCO).

Who developed ISO 26000?

The membership of the ISO/WG SR was the largest and the most broadly based in terms of stakeholder representation of any single group formed to develop an ISO standard. At the last meeting of the ISO/WG SR, in July 2010, there were 450 participating experts and 210 observers from 99 ISO member countries and 42 liaison organizations involved in the work.

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.

Not for certification

ISO 26000 is not a management system standard. It is not intended or appropriate for certification purposes or regulatory or contractual use. Any offer to certify, or claims to be certified, to ISO 26000 would be a misrepresentation of the intent and purpose and a misuse of this International Standard. As ISO 26000 does not contain requirements, any such certification would not be a demonstration of conformity with this International Standard.

How does an organization go about implementing ISO 26000?

After considering the characteristics of social responsibility and its relationship with sustainable development (Clause 3), it is suggested that an organization should review the principles of social responsibility described in Clause 4. In practising social responsibility, organizations should respect and address these principles, along with the principles specific to each core subject (Clause 6).

Before analysing the core subjects and issues of social responsibility, as well as each of the related actions and expectations (Clause 6), an organization should consider two fundamental practices of social responsibility: recognizing its social responsibility within its sphere of influence, and identifying and engaging with its stakeholders (Clause 5).

Once the principles have been understood, and the core subjects and relevant and significant issues of social responsibility have been identified, an organization should seek to integrate social responsibility throughout its decisions and activities, using the guidance provided in Clause 7. This involves practices such as : making social responsibility integral to its policies, organizational culture, strategies and operations ; building internal competency for social responsibility ; undertaking internal and external communication on social responsibility ; and regularly reviewing these actions and practices related to social responsibility.

Further guidance on the core subjects and integration practices of social responsibility is available from authoritative sources (Bibliography) and from various voluntary initiatives and tools (some global examples of which are presented in Annex A).

When approaching and practising social responsibility, the overarching goal for an organization is to maximize its contribution to sustainable development.