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Consumers Call for International Standards on Corporate Social Responsibility


New York, Jun 17, 2002

While corporations cannot and should not be expected to assume the role of government in protecting the public interest, corporations nevertheless can exercise leadership in creating communities and societies that are fair and safe for all. From the consumer perspective, management system standards (MSSs) on corporate social responsibility (CSR) are both desirable and feasible and warrant further investigation by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Such were the conclusions of the 24th annual meeting of ISO's Consumer Policy Committee (COPOLCO) held June 11-12, 2002 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. ISO is a non-governmental, worldwide federation of national standards organizations to which ANSI is the U.S. national member body.

Having considered a report on the desirability and feasibility of ISO CSR standards prepared by its working group Consumer Protection in the Global Market, and taking into account the outcomes of its June 10, 2002 workshop CSR: Concepts and Solutions, COPOLCO recommended that ISO Council establish a multi-stakeholder body to further explore the issue. The report and workshop were undertaken in response to Council's request last year that COPOLCO explore the viability of ISO standards in this area. CSR (a/k/a corporate citizenship, social accountability, etc.) encompasses the social, environmental and economic integrity of corporations operating in the global marketplace and is a growing major concern of consumers and manufacturers alike.

The proposed multi-stakeholder group would further explore the potential for work on ISO CSR MSSs or alternative ISO instruments (e.g., guidance documents) with a view to making recommendations on new work items in this area. This would include a full consultation with all affected stakeholders. In support of this initiative, COPOLCO's Global Market working group will conduct a justification study pursuant to ISO Guide 72, Guidelines for the justification and development of management system standards, which essentially stipulates that a strong business case be made before a new ISO technical activity is undertaken on MSSs. A delegation in attendance from ANSI's Consumer Interest Council supported these actions.

From COPOLCO's perspective, ISO CSR MSSs would build on the existing ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 series of MSSs for quality and environmental management, respectively. Like those standards, ISO CSR MSSs would need to be flexible and practical, capable of being used by small, medium and large enterprises in developed and developing countries, regardless of the particular product or service provided. And similar to the approach taken in ISO 9000 and ISO 14000, the proposed ISO CSR MSSs would describe a process for organizational management of CSR commitments, but they would not prescribe performance levels. In that regard, COPOLCO noted that ISO CSR MSSs would represent only a partial response to the CSR issue, and they would need to work in conjunction with legal requirements and international norms of the United Nations, International Labour Organization, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and others. In addition, care would need to be taken to ensure that claims made by firms concerning compliance with ISO CSR MSSs are not misleading or deceptive.

In a related development, COPOLCO decide to perform further research on issues involved in the trading of second hand goods. A report presented by Consumers International (CI)-an organization in liaison with COPOLCO-indicated that commercialization of second hand products has increased dramatically in recent years, particularly in developing countries and economies in transition. Sometimes this involves the exporting of deffective or recalled products that do not meet the exporting country's national standards which are "dumped" from developed countries into developing countries. CI suggested that guidelines are needed so that consumers in countries where the products are sold will have access to relevant information. The issue was added to COPOLCO's list of priority areas of consumer interest.

To obtain a copy of the COPOLCO CSR report, the CI report, or additional information about these and other issues considered by COPOLCO, contact James McCabe (jmccabe@ansi.org; Tel: 212-642-8921), director of consumer relations and member services, at ANSI.

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