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ISO To Develop Guidelines for Social Responsibility


New York, Jul 13, 2004

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has solidified plans to develop an International Standard for social responsibility. The objective is to produce "a guidance document, written in plain language which is understandable and usable by non-specialists" and not intended for use in certification.

The decision was taken at a senior ISO management meeting in late June 2004 in Stockholm, following an international conference in the Swedish capital earlier the same week. The conference provided a platform for stakeholders to give their views on whether ISO should proceed with work addressing the social responsibility (SR) of organizations and, if so, what form it should take.

Based on the consistent and supportive feedback from the conference, ISO concluded that SR work should be "undertaken immediately". In taking its decision, ISO noted "that social responsibility involves a number of subjects and issues that are qualitatively different from the subjects and issues that have traditionally been dealt with by ISO".

ISO Secretary-General Alan Bryden commented: "ISO's decision is based on a thorough analysis of trends and initiatives relating to social responsibility and the active involvement of all interested groups of stakeholders. The consensus achieved on the way forward for an ISO contribution illustrates the broadening of the scope of our work and the recognition that today, ISO not only provides a growing portfolio of technical standards, but may also supply solutions and guidance on social and environmental issues in the global economy. This new venture is obviously of great interest to stakeholder groups such as consumers, NGO's, labour and regulators whose participation and input ISO both needs and values."

To develop the SR standard, ISO will set up a new working group answering directly to ISO's Technical Management Board (TMB) that oversees the activities of the organization's 186 standards-developing technical subcommittees. As a first step, it has formed a task force to propose the terms of reference and operating processes for the working group in time for consideration at the TMB meeting in September 2004.

Even before that date, the national standards institutes that comprise ISO's worldwide membership are being asked to submit by August 15, 2004, their candidates for a twinned leadership and secretariat to the SR working group, linking developed and developing countries. The experts to the working group will be appointed by the ISO members from all stakeholder categories. Related international and broadly based regional organizations will also be able to appoint experts.

ISO intends to make it easier for experts from developing countries to participate, as well as from other stakeholder categories with limited resources, such as nongovernmental organizations, consumer associations and others. A post will be created within the working group specifically to deal with stakeholder participation, including funding.

In deciding to develop an SR guidance standard, ISO emphasizes that it is intended to add value to, and not to replace, existing inter-governmental agreements with relevance to social responsibility, such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and those adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), and other UN conventions. Furthermore, it recognizes the need to develop an agreement with ILO on cooperation between the two organizations in the area of social responsibility.

The ISO SR conference, which was hosted by the Swedish Standards Institute (SIS), drew 355 participants from 66 countries, including 33 developing countries, representing the principal stakeholder groups: business, government, labor, consumers, international and nongovernmental organizations.

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