ISO 26000 : What does it hold in store? (Part 1)

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Published in November 2010, the newborn ISO 26000 standard is very different from the types of standards usually developed by the International Organization for Standardization. A departure from the traditional technical standards on products and different from the management systems designed for businesses, the launch of ISO 26000 characterizes the emergence of a new kind of standard that extends beyond corporate governance and challenges the entire society.

Indeed, the goal of ISO 26000 is to provide guidance to all kinds of organizations on the principles and practices of social responsibility. While this challenge may seem simple or redundant since several papers have been published with the same goal, the unique aspect of this document lies more in the process that led to its development, as explained by the Secretary-General of ISO.  It is an international consensus of a multi-stakeholder working group composed of 99 countries and 400 experts and was conducted over the course of 5 years.

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A clear definition

The first achievement of ISO 26000 is to provide a comprehensive definition of social responsibility around which businesses, governments, NGOs, unions and other organizations around the world can converge. ISO 26000 defines social responsibility as follows:

Responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behavior that:

  • Contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare  of society;
  • Takes into account the expectations of stakeholders;
  • Is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international  norms of behavior;
  • Is integrated throughout the organization and practiced in its relationships.(ISO 2010a, clause 2.18)

Social Responsibility (SR)  OR  Sustainable Development (SD)?

As stressed by the AFNOR (French Association for Standardization), the relationship between the concepts of social responsibility and sustainable development is redefined. Sustainable development is presented as a societal goal and social responsibility as how organizations contribute to this objective.

An inclusive approach

The second major achievement of ISO 26000 is to provide guidelines for all kinds of organizations around the world on a wide range of topics related to social responsibility (SR). Indeed, it applies, in theory, to all types and sizes of organizations, in all environments whether they are geographic, political, cultural or economic, and in all sectors, whether public, private or voluntary.

The standard covers the whole range of issues that characterize the different areas of social responsibility, from the fight against corruption to sustainable development through human rights. It also covers all aspects of the integration of SR with the decisions and activities of an organization, from general principles to more operational guidelines.

In short, the standard promotes a comprehensive and integrated approach and discourages organizations from selecting the convenient aspects of SR that they want to address.

Caroline Chaumont, Borealis

See also:
ISO 26000 : What does it hold in store? (Part 2)

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