ISO 26000 : What are the core subjects of Social Responsibility? (Part 1)

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What is ISO 26000?

ISO 26000 is a guide that sets out an outline on Social Responsibility (SR), established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). This is a type of “standard guide” essentially different from ISO standards since it contains no requirements and therefore cannot be basis for certification, measurement or conformity assessment.

ISO 26000 is voluntary in use. This is a guidance document that offers suggestions, advice, proposals and recommendations.

The document is considered an international “standard” as it was published by ISO and its member bodies. In other words, the publication format is an international standard, but with regard to its content, it is a guidance document.

Core subjects

It is essential to recognize the core subjects relevant to social responsibility in an organization. Additionally, it should be noted that both individuals and organizations may have different interests which can affect decisions and activities within an organization.

To identify the key subjects in social responsibility, knowledge of ISO 26000 can be an efficient way to recognize important issues and set priorities. The Standard mainly covers the economic, environmental and social impacts to be addressed by organizations. Each subject, but not necessarily every issue, has some relevance to each organization.

ISO 26000 addresses 7 core subjects: (i) Organizational Governance, (ii) Human Rights, (iii) Labor Practices, (iv) The Environment, (v) Fair Operating Practices, (vi) Consumer Issues, and (vii) Community Involvement and Development. Economic aspects, those of health and safety and the value chain are processed through the 7 core subjects, when appropriate.

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(i) Organizational Governance

This is the system by which organizations make their decisions and implement actions to achieve their objectives. This is a core function at each organization since it is the framework for decision making.

In the context of social responsibility, this is characteristically a key issue the organization should use as a way to increase its ability to behave responsibly regarding other important issues.

Relevant issues include: (i) Accountability, (ii) Transparency, (iii) Ethical behavior, (iv) Respect for stakeholders’ interests, and (v) Respect for the rule of law.

(ii) Human Rights

Human rights are basic rights to which all humans are entitled. Human rights are divided into two categories. The first category concerns political and civil rights such as the right to life, freedom, equality; the second one refers to economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to work, food, health, education and social security.

Issues to be considered regarding human rights are: (i) Due diligence, (ii) Human rights risk situations, (iii) Avoidance of complicity, (iv) Grievance resolution, (v) Discrimination and vulnerable groups, (vi) Civil and political rights, (vii) Economic, social and cultural rights, and (viii) Fundamental principles and rights at work.

Despite the fact that the preceding issues are legislated by many jurisdictions, the organization must independently make sure that (i) freedom of organization and collective negotiation are possible, (ii) there is no forced labor, (iii) there are equal opportunities and no discrimination, and (iv) it is highly responsible regarding child labor.

(iii) Labor Practices

Labor practices in an organization must be in accordance with all policies and actions related to the work done by the organization and developed on its behalf, including subcontracted work. Labor practices extend beyond the relationship between the organization and its employees.

Relevant issues to be considered include: (i) Employment and employment relationships, (ii) Conditions of work and social protection, (iii) Social dialog (iv) Health and safety at work, and (v) Human development and training in the workplace.

(iv) The Environment

No matter where the organization is located, both its decisions and activities will always have an impact on the environment, normally associated with the use of resources, location of activities, the generation of pollution and waste, and the impact of activities on natural habitats.

Organizations must at all times make an effort to reduce their environmental impact by adopting a holistic approach for the problem, considering the implications and (direct and indirect) impact of their decisions and activities on the socio-economic, health-economic and environmental aspects.

Relevant issues to be considered include: (i) Prevention of pollution, (ii) Sustainable resource use, (iii) Climate change mitigation and adaptation, and (iv) Protection of the environment, biodiversity and restoration of natural habitats.

(v) Fair Operating Practices

Fair operating practices refer to the ethical conduct of organizations and their transactions with other organizations. Within social responsibility, they refer to the way in which an organization uses its relationships with other organizations to produce positive results.

Relevant issues include: (i) Anti–corruption, (ii) Responsible political involvement, (iii) Fair competition, (iv) Promoting social responsibility in the value chain and, (v) Respect for property rights.

(vi) Consumer Issues

Organizations that provide products and services to consumers and customers have responsibilities towards them. Responsibilities include education about the product, accurate information, fair use, transparent marketing information that is helpful, contractual processes, promoting sustainable development, design and service that enable access for everyone, and when appropriate, for vulnerable groups or groups with some disadvantage.

Issues to be considered regarding consumer issues include: (i) Fair marketing, factual and unbiased information and fair contractual practices, (ii) Protection of consumers’ health and safety, (iii) Sustainable consumption, (iv) Consumer service, support, and complaint and dispute resolution, (v) Consumer data protection and privacy, (vi) Access to essential services, and (vii) Education and awareness.

(vii) Community Involvement and Development

Organizations have a relationship and impact on the communities in which they operate. This relationship should be based on community involvement to contribute to its development. Both community involvement and development are part of sustainable development.

Issues to be considered regarding community involvement and development include: (i) Active community involvement, (ii) Education and culture, (iii) Employment creation and skills development, (iv) Technology development and access (v) Wealth and income creation, (vi) Health, and (vii) Social investment.

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See also: ISO 26000 : What are the core subjects of Social Responsibility? (Part 2)

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