What role does ISO 26000 play in CSR?

ISO 26000
Updated on February 5th, 2024
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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a major issue in the business world. To get started on their CSR approach, organisations can rely on the ISO 26000 standard. This voluntary international standard was designed by the International Organisation for Standardisation, which has authority spanning more than 150 countries. It shares guidelines relating to the social responsibility of organisations, to contribute to sustainable development.

In 1987, the report by the World Commission on Environment and Development chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland on behalf of the UN set out the official international definition of sustainable development: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Definition of the ISO 26000 standard

Published in November 2010, the ISO 26000 standard is the first real international standard for social responsibility. It encapsulates five years of negotiations and is a consensus among numerous stakeholders around the world.

This key document aims to help organisations in both the public and private sectors, of any size and location, translate the principles of social responsibility into concrete actions. It provides a framework to initiate thinking on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and build an effective strategy.

Because it sets up guidelines – and not requirements – this standard is not intended for certification purposes (unlike other management system standards that are certified and can complement this approach). Other tools also help develop this process, such as ILO-OSH 2001, the Global Reporting Initiative, ecolabels, etc.

To find out more
There are other ISO standards relating to sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility issues, such as:
ISO 14001 on environmental management;
ISO 45001 on occupational health and safety management systems (OH&S);
ISO 9001 on quality management;
ISO 20400 on sustainable procurement.

Contents of the ISO 26000 standard

To support companies in their efforts towards sustainable development, the ISO 26000 standard describes the principles, tools and themes covered by social responsibility, while respecting the founding texts at international level (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Labour Organisation conventions, etc.).

This document helps to clarify the notion of social responsibility, which it defines as follows: “The responsibility of an organisation for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour”.

In addition to promoting a common understanding of social responsibility, ISO 26000 supports organisations in their sustainable development approach by helping them identify their social responsibility and stakeholders, as well as understand how to facilitate dialogue with them.

This framework also provides guidance on implementing CSR. This covers the integration of social responsibility throughout the organisation, communication, progress monitoring, continuous improvement, etc. Examples of voluntary initiatives and tools used for these purposes are also provided in the appendix, to inspire everyone.

The 7 core subjects of ISO 26000

In Article 6, ISO 26000 invites organisations to structure their approach around seven interdependent core subjects relating to being socially responsible. This enables them to identify relevant areas for action on which to base their priorities and implement their measures.

Each core subject is broken down into several areas of action:

  • Organisational governance;
  • Human rights: Due diligence, avoidance of complicity, human rights risk situations, discrimination, civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, rights at work, etc.;
  • Labour practices: Employer and employee relationships, working conditions and social protection, social dialogue, health and safety at work, etc.;
  • Environment: Pollution prevention, sustainable use of resources, climate change mitigation, protection of the environment and biodiversity, etc.;
  •  Fair operating practices: Anti-corruption, fair competition, respect for property rights, etc.;
  • Consumer issues: Protection of consumer health and safety, sustainable consumption, protection of consumer data and privacy, consumer education and awareness, etc.;
  • Community involvement and development: Community involvement, employment creation and skills development, technology development and access, social investment, etc.

For each of these areas of action, ISO 26000 provides a roadmap for companies to assess themselves and implement improvements.

Benefits of ISO 26000

Social responsibility is part of an overall performance perspective for a company. By engaging in this approach, organisations are encouraged to challenge their practices.

This includes:

  •  Risk reduction;
  •  Quality of social dialogue;
  •  Interactions with the field;
  •  Attractiveness for future employees;
  •  Improved relations with stakeholders (investors, government, suppliers and media).

In short, this promotes a new vision of work and a new relationship with the ecosystem.

Using ISO 26000 therefore offers many benefits for companies. As the official document points out in its introduction: “An organisation’s performance in relation to the society in which it operates and to its environmental impact has become a critical part of measuring its overall performance and its ability to continue operating effectively. This is, in part, a reflection of the growing recognition of the need to ensure healthy ecosystems, social equity and good organisational governance.”

By implementing such an approach, companies gain a real competitive edge. This has a positive impact on their reputation, customer attraction and retention, and productivity.

ISO 26000 helped to reach a global consensus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). There is no doubt that implementing a CSR approach inspired by this key standard represents an investment in competitiveness, differentiation and thus the sustainable development of organisations.

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