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 organisations 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 published by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
It defines social responsibility as “ the responsibility of an organisation 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 organisation and practiced in its relationships.”
The standard aims to help organisations—from companies to NGOs, cooperatives, unions, etc.—operate in a socially responsible way and integrate socially responsible behavior into their culture.
The standard helps organisations understand 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 business model 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 organisation shares information about social and environmental performance with all stakeholders.
Ethical behavior: the organisation 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 organisation 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 organisation works within the local and national laws of each country in which it operates.
Respect for international norms of behavior: the organisation operates with integrity and transparency beyond national boundaries.
Respect for human rights: the organisation 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 organisations’ operations.
The standard emphasises on the holistic socially responsible approach: each of the 7 subjects must be understood as being a constituent element of a coherent whole.
The subjects are further divided into several subsequent issues, which explain the guidelines that companies are asked to follow. Companies will identify the relevant and priority issues accordingly.
1/ Organisational governance
Decisions are to be made in consideration of the expectations of society.
Accountability, transparency, ethics, and stakeholders should be factors in the organisation’s decision-making process.
2/ Human rights
Every person have the right to fair treatment and the elimination of discrimination, torture, and exploitation.
Human rights risk situations
Avoidance of complicity
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 organisation are not a commodity. The goal is to prevent unfair competition based on exploitation and abuse.
Employment and employment relationships
Conditions of work and social protection
Health and safety at work
Human development and training in the workplace
4/ The environment
The organisation has a responsibility to reduce and eliminate unsustainable volume and patterns of production and consumption to ensure that resource consumption per person is efficient and sustainable.
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.
Responsible political involvement
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 organisation’s responsibility.
Fair marketing, factual, and unbiased information and fair contractual practices
Protecting consumers' health and safety
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 organisation should be involved with creating sustainable social structures where increasing levels of education and well-being can exist.
Education and culture
Employment creation and skills development
Technology development and access
Wealth and income creation
Who is ISO 26000 for?
Overview of the different types of organisations using ISO 26000
Organisations 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 organisation.
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)
farmers and agribusiness
Because ISO 26000 offers an operational framework and a practical, pragmatic methodological approach, it can be used by almost everyone to a varying extent and scope: government level, organisation level, site level, product/service level and even project/program level.
How does ISO 26000 differ from other standards and frameworks?
As a voluntary international standard that has emerged from an international consensus, ISO 26000 is different and unique from others for several reasons:
It is designed to work in all organisational 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 provides one of the most comprehensive yet concise guidelines on what an organisation should do to contribute to sustainable development.
It serves as 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, i.e. it is available for everyone's use and customisable as per needs and context of its user. Only the print copies are chargeable.
ISO 26000 is designed to work in all organisational 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.
Organisations can use the standard’s suggestions for implementing a social responsibility policy as they like and in the timeline, they decide.
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 organisation and integrated into the day-to-day business.
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 organisation.”
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 prioritise 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
When companies produce reports to communicate their commitments, investments, actions, and progress towards socially responsible initiatives, the report is often called as corporate social responsibility report or CSR report.
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 organisation 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 Organisation for Standardisation is extremely sensitive to any usage of the name “ISO 26000” that could imply that an organisation or company has been, or needs to be, certified to the standard.
ISO recommends that companies say: “[Business Name] recognises 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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