ISO 26000 is an international standard that aims to provide guidance on how companies can be socially responsible. It covers a wide range of issues, from labor rights to environmental responsibility.

The standard is designed for companies that want to implement social responsibility practices in their own operations and within their supply chain.

What is ISO 26000?

The ISO 26000: Guidance on Social Responsibility is a standard for social responsibility published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

It defines social responsibility as “ the responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment through transparent and ethical behavior that:

  • Contributes to sustainable development, including the health and welfare of society
  • Takes into account the expectations of stakeholders
  • Complies with applicable law and is consistent with international norms of behavior
  • Is integrated throughout the organization and practiced in its relationships.”

What is ISO 26000 purpose?

The ISO 26000 standard outlines the principles and guidelines of the concept of social responsibility.

The standard aims to help organizations—from companies to NGOs, cooperatives, unions, etc.—operate in a socially responsible way and integrate socially responsible behavior into their organizational culture.

This means that organizations are aware of how their actions and decisions impact people and the environment around them, and act accordingly.

ISO 26000 principles

Social responsibility values

ISO 26000 outlines key values, which are viewed as the roots of socially responsible behavior. As part of their approach to responsibility, companies will make sure to integrate those values within their DNA and in every decision they make.

  • Accountability: management takes responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of its operations, supply chain, products/services, and behavior.
  • Transparency: the organization shares information about social and environmental performance with all stakeholders.
  • Ethical behavior: the organization shows respect for human rights and ensures that its workforce operates in a safe environment. It also ensures that it is not complicit in human rights abuses of others, such as forced or slave labor, by business partners or suppliers.
  • Respect for stakeholder interests: the organization shows consideration for the interests and expectations of all stakeholders and manages any negative impacts on their legitimate interests.
  • Respect for the rule of law: the organization works within the local and national laws of each country in which it operates.
  • Respect for international norms of behavior: the organization operates with integrity and transparency beyond national boundaries.
  • Respect for human rights: the organization ensures that it is not complicit in human rights abuses of others, such as forced or slave labor, by business partners or suppliers.

The 7 core subjects

ISO 26000 gives 7 core subjects to work on, related to the organizations’ operations.

The standard insists on the holistic aspect of a social responsibility approach: each of the 7 subjects must be understood as being a constituent element of a coherent whole.

The subjects are then further divided into several subsequent issues, which explain the guidelines that companies are asked to follow. Companies will identify the relevant and priority issues for them.

1/ Organizational governance

Decisions are to be made in consideration of the expectations of society.

Accountability, transparency, ethics, and stakeholders should be factors in the organization’s decision-making process.

2/ Human rights

All humans have the right to fair treatment and the elimination of discrimination, torture, and exploitation.

Issues related:

  • Due diligence
  • Human rights risk situations
  • Avoidance of complicity
  • Resolving grievances
  • Discrimination and vulnerable groups
  • Civil and political rights
  • Economic, social, and cultural rights
  • Fundamental principles and rights at work
3/ Labor practices

Those working on behalf of the organization are not a commodity. The goal is to prevent unfair competition based on exploitation and abuse.

Issues related:

  • Employment and employment relationships
  • Conditions of work and social protection
  • Social dialogue
  • Health and safety at work
  • Human development and training in the workplace
4/ The environment

The organization has a responsibility to reduce and eliminate unsustainable volumes and patterns of production and consumption and to ensure that resource consumption per person becomes sustainable.

Issues related:

  • Prevention of pollution
  • Sustainable resource use
  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Protection of the environment, biodiversity, and restoration of natural habitats
5/ Fair operating practices

Building systems of fair competition, preventing corruption, encouraging fair competition, and promoting the reliability of fair business practices help to build sustainable social systems.

Issues related:

  • Anti-corruption
  • Responsible political involvement
  • Fair competition
  • Promoting social responsibility in the value chain
  • Respect for property rights
6/ Consumer issues

The promotion of fair, sustainable, and equitable economic and social development concerning consumer health, safety, and access is the organization’s responsibility.

Issues related:

  • Fair marketing, factual, and unbiased information and fair contractual practices
  • Protecting consumers' health and safety
  • Sustainable consumption
  • Consumer service, support, and complaint and dispute resolution
  • Consumer data protection and privacy
  • Access to essential services
  • Education and awareness
7/ Community involvement and development

The organization should be involved with creating sustainable social structures where increasing levels of education and well-being can exist.

Issues related:

  • Community involvement
  • Education and culture
  • Employment creation and skills development
  • Technology development and access
  • Wealth and income creation
  • Health
  • Social investment

Who is ISO 26000 for?

Overview of the different types of organizations using ISO 26000

Organizations in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, whether large or small, and whether operating in developed or developing countries, use ISO 26000. All of the core subjects of social responsibility are relevant in some way to every organization.

ISO 26000 can be used for example by:

  • large multinational corporations
  • small and medium-sized enterprises
  • the public sector (hospitals, schools or others)
  • foundations, charities and NGOs
  • extractive industries, such as mining and fossil fuel companies
  • service and financial industries (banks, IT, insurance)
  • municipal governments
  • farmers and agribusiness
  • consultancies

Because ISO 26000 offers an operational framework and a practical, pragmatic methodological approach, it can be used by all in any scope: government level, organization level, site level, product/service level and even project/program level.

How does ISO 26000 stand out from other standards and frameworks?

As a voluntary international standard that has emerged from an international consensus, ISO 26000 stands out from others for several reasons:

  • It is designed to work in all organizational and cultural contexts – in any country or region
  • It is flexible and the user decides how to use it
  • It was internationally negotiated through ISO’s consensus method, using a multi-stakeholder approach, and balance to reflect global diversity.
  • It incorporates the real-life experiences of its many contributors, and at the same time builds on international norms and agreements related to Social Responsibility

ISO 26000 is one of the most comprehensive and concise guides of what an organization should do to contribute to sustainable development.

It constitutes a valuable tool for the implementation of the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Benefits for using ISO 26000 for for-profit companies

Using ISO 26000 helps companies manage and reduce risks, and identify new opportunities. It is a great framework to start the sustainability journey.

Increasing social responsibility contributes to a “virtuous cycle” where each action strengthens the company and encourages sustainable development among all stakeholders.

Implementing the policies and guidelines outlined in ISO 26000 provides companies with:

  • A better reputation, leading to economic benefits on a long term
  • Competitive advantage by standing out as the better option among competitors
  • An increased ability to attract and retain workers as well as customers and stakeholders
  • Upkeep of employee morale, commitment, and productivity
  • A favorable public perception with investors, owners, donors, and financial interests
  • Improved external relationships with other companies, media and community

How to use ISO 26000 standard?

Overview and timeline

ISO 26000 is open source, available to anyone to use and is customizable to fit everyone’s context and needs.

It is not mandatory for companies to buy the official ISO 26000 publication to implement the standard’s guidelines. They can use all resources available to learn about and understand it (online information, books etc.).

ISO 26000 is designed to work in all organizational and cultural contexts, in any country or region. On the operational side, there are no certification or specific requirements, as well as no particular timeline.

Organizations can use the standard’s suggestions for implementing a social responsibility policy as they like and in the timeline, they decide.

Implementation

The steps for implementing a social responsibility policy following ISO 26000 guidance may vary depending on the strategy and objectives defined by companies.

However, the 8 steps below provide an idea of what the process generally looks like:

1. Fully understand the ISO 26000 standard and framework

Companies can use the many resources available online to train managers and employees to ensure that socially responsible behaviors are implemented throughout the organization and integrated into the day-to-day business.

2. Carry out a diagnostic of the current picture

Companies will:

  • Explore what social responsibility means to them
  • Evaluate their situation for each of the ISO 26000 seven core subjects, identifying significant issues
  • Define the importance of each core subject for their business and their long-term vision and strategy
3. Identify the relevant issues

The 7 core subjects contain 37 issues in total.

Not all of the 37 specific issues will be relevant to every company. For each issue, the standard provides appropriate guidelines and implementation strategies for companies to self-assess their current status and set achievable goals for improvement.

4. Identify and engage the stakeholders

ISO 26000 defines a “stakeholder” as “an individual or group that has an interest in any decision or activity of an organization.”

Stakeholder categories include workers, clients, purchasers, consumers, owners, investors, government officials, community residents, and suppliers.

Companies must have two-way discussions with them about how they can both best work together.

It can be the trickiest part of the process so it’s important to make sure:

  • not to attempt to engage all stakeholders on all issues at the beginning
  • to prioritize core subjects and related stakeholders
  • to focus on areas where companies and their stakeholders can most realistically move forward together within the limits of each entity's resources
5. Improvement plans

Based on the current picture diagnostic, companies will:

  • Identify current weaknesses and the causes behind them
  • Identify resources needed to overcome the weaknesses: time, money, partners, etc.
  • Develop a timeline and action plan to bridge the gaps
  • Always take into account the impacts of the considered changes
6. Public reporting

The standard urges that, at appropriate intervals, users report on their performance on social responsibility to affected stakeholders.

The standard suggests that the report should include:

  • honestly and accurately description of the current situation
  • information about objectives and performance on the core subjects and relevant issues of social responsibility
  • notification on how and when stakeholders have been involved in the reporting
  • a fair and complete picture of performance, including achievements and shortfalls, and how the latter will be addressed

This report itself is considered as an act of social responsibility.

Such a CSR report can also take into account other CSR reporting standards and frameworks.

For instance, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a non-governmental organization created to develop and manage a sustainability reporting framework, provides guidance on how to use the GRI G4 Guidelines in conjunction with the ISO 26000 standard.

7. Communicate with transparency about social responsibility

As part of a continuing dialogue between companies and their ecosystem.

8. Claiming credit

Because ISO 26000 is not for certification purposes, the International Organization for Standardization is extremely sensitive to any uses of the name “ISO 26000” that could imply that an organization or company has been, or needs to be, certified to the standard.

ISO recommends that companies say:
“[Business Name] recognizes ISO 26000 as a reference document that provides guidance on social responsibility.”
and/or
“[Business Name] has used ISO 26000 as a guide to integrate social responsibility into our values and practices.”

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