Ethical Performance
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Destiny of ISO26000 rests on crucial vote

February 2010

Balloting on an advanced draft of the ISO26000 social responsibility standard ends this month as the five-year process of drawing up the document nears its end.

Voting by national standards bodies will effectively decide whether the draft standard is published in the autumn or is delayed for 12 months or more.

If there is a favourable two-thirds majority in the ballot, which ends on 14 February, a meeting in Cape Town in March will propose any last-minute changes and these will go for ratification at a week-long plenary session in Copenhagen from 17 to 21 May. That will precede a final ballot and publication of the 109-page document in the third or fourth quarter of this year.

If this month’s vote is negative, the draft will go back for revision, followed by more ballots and several further editing and committee meetings. Staffan Soderberg, vice-chair of the main working group that has produced the draft, estimated this would delay the process by a year.  

Insiders say there are still areas of disagreement over the draft, but do not expect a ‘no’ vote. Those voting against are required to state why, and their comments will be dealt with at Cape Town even if there is an overall ‘yes’ result.

One area of contention has emerged over the price of the final standard when it appears. Some non-governmental organizations have prodded the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which will publish the document, to provide it free to increase uptake. However, the ISO council says it cannot depart from its normal policy of charging for documents, and is likely to fix a price of about $200 (£123, €142).

Paul Hohnen, a CSR consultant who has been involved in the working group negotiations, said concerns remained in some quarters about the charging policy, the fact that the standard would not lead to certification, and its applicability to small companies.

However, he added that many who have taken part in the process now view it as ‘fit for purpose’, would not welcome another long round of revisions, and are consequently ready to sign it off. ‘The most appealing option for many will be to press ahead with a lightly edited version of the current draft,’ he said. ‘After five years of intensive negotiations, energy and budgets are running low.’

Any delay would not be welcomed by the increasing number of organizations keen to begin using the standard. Unusually, the latest draft has been allowed into the public domain by the ISO, which has been happy for companies and consultants to test it.

Soderberg said the feedback so far had been largely positive, but in some quarters too enthusiastic – some consultancies are already offering ‘certification’ against the standard and have been warned off doing so. ISO26000 is being developed as a collection of guidance notes rather than a full-blown certification standard, and therefore will not be available for certification even when published.

Once the standard is finalized it is likely the secretariat of the working group that produced the drafts will remain in place to handle any ‘post-publication issues’. 

International Organization for Standardisation | Global | Standards

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