ISO 26000 - What is ISO 26000

August 11, 2023
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The ISO 26000: Guidance on Social Responsibility is the globally recognised standard monitoring and reporting social responsibility, published by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

The standard 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.


What is the intent behind ISO 26000?

ISO 26000 establishes the principles and guidelines of the concept of social responsibility.

It intends to help all types of organisations, companies, NGOs, cooperatives, unions, operate in a socially responsible way by integrating socially responsible behavior into the organisation. This means that organisations are aware of how their actions and decisions impact the people and the environment around them and act accordingly.

ISO 26000 is aligned with the definition of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as defined in 2001 by the European Union: “A concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders.”

Consequently, many organisations align their CSR strategy with ISO 26000.

A quick history of the ISO organisation and the ISO 26000 framework

Corporate social responsibility is not a new concept. The 1953 book ‘Social Responsibilities of the Businessman’ by Howard Bowen is often heralded as the start of the modern debate about the issues that organisations need to consider.

The consideration started with the organisation’s philanthropic activity, and then gradually expanded over the years to include topics such as labor conditions, fair business operations, human rights, the environment, corruption, and consumer protection.

In response to this, the standard ISO 14001: Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, that focuses on pollution prevention and environmental management, was published in 1996. It is used by businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies to reduce pollution, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Then, with the awareness of these subjects and the increase in the number of topics, the need for a wider framework appeared.

The ISO 26000 standard was published in November 2010. It is a result of 5 years of multi-stakeholders' in-depth work. Over 400 experts from 80 different countries and groups such as industry, consumers, governments, labor, NGOs, service, support, and research have been involved.

Social responsibility is quite a complex concept. The ISO 26000 standard answers this issue providing guidance for organisations to implement sustainable development on a global scale.

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), founded in 1947 in London, is an independent, non-governmental international organisation that develops and publishes worldwide technical, industrial, and commercial standards, to ensure quality, safety, and efficiency of products, services, and systems.

ISO in numbers today:

  • 24166 International Standards covering almost all aspects of technology and manufacturing have been issued
  • 167 members representing ISO in their country. There is only one member per country
  • 802 technical committees and subcommittees to take care of standards development

ISO 26000 today

Nowadays, ISO 26000 is one of the most widely used and recognised ISO standards.

The standard has been applied by tens of thousands of organisations of many types and sizes and in all parts of the world.

2020 marked ten years since ISO 26000’s first publication.

« Since publication ten years ago the standard has been adopted by more than 80 countries, most of which are developing countries, and we see how it has inspired public policy and businesses in Indonesia, Chile, India, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Korea, the European Union among others. » Mr Staffan Söderberg, Vice-Chair of the ISO Working Group that developed ISO 26000, AMAP

Every few years, the ISO members body (160+ country members) is asked whether to keep it as it is, review or amend it, or withdraw the standard.

In the 2020/2021 review, the member’s body voted to keep ISO 26000 in its current version.

This review also highlighted some developments in the number of governments that have adopted ISO 26000: governments of Vietnam, Congo, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Sudan had reported having adopted or progressed the adoption. This brings the number of countries to 88.

However, while society has made progress in many areas over the last decade, the guidance of ISO 26000 remains more than relevant to addressing today’s challenges.

With many organisations being forced to reassess the way they do business in the light of COVID-19, the importance of social responsibility has come to the fore as a component of building a more resilient and more equitable business and therefore society.

Learn more about ISO 26000...

ISO 26000 - What is ISO 26000

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