ISO 26000 social responsibility guidance

ISO has recently launched the most eagerly awaited ISO International Standards of recent years, ISO 26000:2010, Guidance on social responsibility. The document aims to bring together the current multitude of CR/sustainability standards and will assist companies in better managing their sustainability performance.

We are entering an era where corporate social responsibility (CSR) is of central concern to executives of almost every enterprise. The importance of documenting and managing CSR practices becomes eminently clear when we consider the tragedy surrounding the 2010 explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. BP is the latest example of how social responsibility is of critical importance to an enterprise from not only the standpoint of public perception, but for protecting the interests of investors and other stakeholders.

The new ISO 26000 standard comes at a time when businesses are being judged on everything from their e-waste disposal and safety standards to their carbon emissions.

According to the ISO, ISO 26000 provides guidance for all types of organisations, regardless of their size or location, on:

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

ISO 26000 is unique, mainly because it is a form of guidance and not a certification standard like the more well-known ISO 9001 quality management and 14001 environmental management standards. That may be part of its weakness. Many skeptics believe that ISO 26000 will not suddenly replace all corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in an organisation’s Supply Chain. However, it does attempt to harmonize UN Global Compact guidelines for ethical business practices and a number of existing practices, principles and guidelines devoted to social responsibility such as the Global Reporting Initiative.

Dominique Gangneux is a Partner at ERM, a leading global provider of environmental, health and safety, risk, and social consulting services and comments on the effects that ISO 26000 could have on businesses:

“ISO 26000 brings three key benefits to the field of sustainability. It confirms the meaning of many concepts and terms; it establishes bridges between the multitudes of existing standards; and it will raise awareness of many more organisations around the world on the meaning and value of good sustainability performance. On one side it makes it easier for individuals from diverse backgrounds to access this field, on the other it will probably lead companies to appoint people into new sustainability officer roles to effectively drive practice and performance improvement and reap the business benefits of sustainability.”

By adopting the ISO 26000 approach and operating in a socially responsible manner, companies can demonstrate to their stakeholders and their consumers their commitment to making real differences in their business practices, thus increasing their competitiveness and building their reputation.

The author, Vicky Kenrick, works for Allen & York, a leading international sustainability recruitment consultancy.

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