Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


ISO 26000 takes shape as consensus takes hold

February 2009

The long-awaited ISO standard on social responsibility has taken its most important step forward with the publication of a ‘committee draft’ that will form the backbone of the final document.

The 109-page draft, now out to consultation until 12 March, is being scrutinized by specially created national committees in 90 countries, which will feed their comments to a key meeting in Canada from 18 to 22 May.

Provided no serious problems arise at that gathering, the standard – known as ISO 26000 – is expected to be published in its final form in September 2010.

ISO 26000 is being developed by the International Organization for Standardization as a collection of guidance notes rather than a full-blown certification standard, and is intended to establish principles and offer advice to organizations wishing to implement social responsibility programmes.

Drafting began in 2004 and has been painstaking, partly because the ISO has wanted to develop a worldwide consensus on its contents among representatives of business, NGOs, unions, governments and consumers.

Publication in committee draft form indicates it has emerged from its most crucial – and potentially fraught – stage, during which it has been discussed at length by stakeholder groups in many sub-committees.  

Staffan Soderberg, vice-chair of the ISO’s social responsibility working group, said the draft was ‘a significant landmark’. He hoped it would be robust enough to survive largely intact.  

Debate on the content of ISO 26000 has often been characterized by weighty disagreements among participants, even on basic issues such as the definitions of social responsibility and sustainable development. Consequently, the timetable has frequently slipped.

One source told EP: ‘We’ve had stakeholder groups that didn’t trust each other, and at times, behind closed doors, there has been screaming and shouting, with threats of vetoes and attempts to hijack the whole process. But fortunately people are still talking to each other and so far it has turned out OK.’

There is still potential for disagreement, but less confrontation is expected within the six-member national committees examining the draft. These committees have been formed by national standards bodies in each of the countries taking part in the consultation exercise.

The draft, which is applicable to all organizations, not just companies, includes guidance on areas such as engaging stakeholders, integrating social responsibility throughout an organization, climate change mitigation, anti-corruption, sustainable consumption and community involvement.

ISO standards establish best practice in fields from vacuum cleaner specifications to office layouts. Their use is voluntary.

see editorial, page 12

International Organization for Standardisation | Global | Standards

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