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ISO Primed for Development of International Standard on Social Responsibility

New York, Mar 24, 2005

A Working Group of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) met in Brazil at the beginning of March to launch a new work item that will provide guiding principles on social responsibility (SR). ISO expects that developing the standard will take approximately three years.

“Corporate social responsibility” (CSR) became a business buzzword in the early 1990s when large multinational companies were pressured to report on the environmental and social impact of their corporate activities. CSR refers to an organization’s commitment to operating a business in a manner that meets or exceeds the ethical, legal, commercial and public expectations that society has of business.

The application of the future ISO standard will not necessarily be limited to corporations, however. During preliminary explorations of the potential to develop an international standard in this area, ISO found no single authoritative definition of the term and although “CSR had its origins in the context of commercial enterprises,” ISO does not, as a rule, predetermine which particular type of organization may use its standards or other deliverables. “As a result, we refer to possible ISO social responsibility deliverables without organizational specification.”1

“Our ambition is to develop guiding principles with global relevance that will be useful to organizations worldwide in establishing, implementing, maintaining and improving the way they address social responsibility,” said Working Group vice chair Catarina Munck af Rosenschöld.

The Working Group meeting was attended by 43 ISO member countries (including 21 developing countries) plus 24 organizations with liaison status, represented by a total of 225 experts. They were also joined by observers from international organizations, for a grand total of more than 300 delegates.

“As well as giving a focus to the development of the SR standard by providing it with a designation, ISO 26000, this first meeting was the scene for the essential first phase of ‘team forming’ which must take place before ‘team performing’ can swing into action,” commented ISO Secretary-General Alan Bryden.

The drafting of ISO 26000 will deviate slightly from the traditional ISO method of developing standards. Rather than delegations from ISO member bodies carrying out the work based on national consensus, the method introduced for the WG SR allows for the participating ISO members to nominate up to six experts, representing various stakeholder groups: industry, government, labor, consumers, non-governmental organizations and others. According to ISO, this approach is intended to promote broad input by all those with a serious interest in social responsibility.

For more information on ISO’s activities in this area, visit

[1] Excerpts from a 2003 working paper of an advisory group established by ISO's Technical Management Board to examine the question of whether standardization work by ISO could add value to already existing programs related to the scope of CSR.

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