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Tools around ISO 26000

How will the world of social responsibility standards look when ISO 26000 comes into effect, i.e. 2010 onwards?

 A Google search for “social responsibility standards” leads to more than 7,4 million hits (this includes standards and any remarks thereon). It would be vain to attempt to investigate them all, but it demonstrates how broadly the subject is already treated.

Referring to the  pattern of potential industrial users, see there,  it seems fair to say:

  • Bigger organizations (1% of users) have issued their codes of conduct, as a self-commitment, and practice them throughout their organization, i.e. world-wide. They are scrutinized e.g. by the press, globally, and if their social responsibility behaviour fails at one site, the global image of the whole organization is at stake
  • Small and medium organizations (up to 200 employees, over 90% of users): the overwhelming majority act locally, permanently scrutinized by their local community (population, authorities, press etc.). If they fail in their social responsibility they would immediately lose image and business and possibly even their existence
  • Trade Associations: Small and medium-sized organizations are very often members of a Trade Association, at national, regional and/or international level. Trade Associations have developed, or are developing, their own codes of conduct and encourage members to declare publicly  (e.g. on the Trade Association’s website) adherence to the Association’s code of conduct.

Example 1:
One of the many examples is the German BME “Bundesverband Materialwirtschaft, Einkauf und Logistik e.V.” (
http://www.bme.de/ Association Materials Management, Purchasing and Logistics (AMMPL)).

Its Code ( please see http://www.bme.de/fileadmin/pdf/Pressemeldungen/2008_11_10_BME_VerhaltensrichtlinieCoC.pdf  ) consists of 8 pages (the ISO 26000 CD1 has more than 90 pages), and addresses the following issues:

  • corruption, competition, forced labour and child labour (2,5 pages)
  • human rights, discrimination, safety at work, fair working conditions, protection of the environment and business secrets (1 page)
  • supply chain (a 6-line paragraph)
  • commitments (1 page)
  • The annex reproduces the UN Global Compact.

It is easy to read and understand and references UN and ILO documents and others as appropriate.

Example 2:
Another example is CECED, the European Manufacturers’ Association for Household Appliances. The CECED 2005 Code of Conduct  (please see http://www.ceced.eudata.be/ICECED/easnet.dll/GetDoc?APPL=1&DAT_IM=033162 ) is a document of 8 pages, addresses all relevant issues and gives in its annex the text of a “Declaration Regarding Compliance with the CECED Code of Conduct” and a template for a “Progress Report”.

Example 3:
has published its Code of Conduct for Corporate Social Responsibility. Its a document of 5 (five) pages, covers all relevant issues and ends with a section “Implementation and Application” which is foreseen to be signed by those who commit themselves to follow the contained guidance. The link is http://www.zvei.org/index.php?id=4770 (2009-08-09). Its  headlines are
1. Basic Understanding of Social Responsibility in Corporate Management
2. Where the CoC applies
3. Core Values for Social Responsibility in Corporate Management
4. Implementation and Application.
You may wish to download the document. Please go to the referenced link or to “good examples”.

These  examples
are representative of many - and there are more to come. This demonstrates the awareness of SR needs and actions and the ability of enterprises and associations to organize themselves, independently of any public consensus standard or guidance document. This development will continue, as a self-driven  process.

What are possible consequences for ISO 26000?

Document volume 
A basic feeling is that the majority of potential ISO 26000 users would appreciate a short ISO document from which to take the guidance applicable to their specific case. Simply  referencing other documents, codes, and international conventions etc. is highly appreciated, thereby making the document short and avoiding duplicative statements.

General or sector orientation
Codes of conduct are usually specific to a particular business sector and thereby easier to agree upon -  and possibly easier to practised than an ISO 26000 international standard.

In comparison with the two examples, ISO 26000 faces a much bigger challenge because it is supposed to cover all social responsibility issues and be applicable to all organizations regardless of their type, size and location (as stated in the ISO New Work Item Proposal). Logically, ISO 26000 needs to describe all possible issues and express them in a way understandable for all people in all countries.
This is a lofty intent but forces users to first select those issues which are relevant and applicable to their specific case; e.g. guidance on respect for human rights is a large section in ISO 26000 but it may not be relevant in locations where human rights are covered by government regulation.

Direct applicability
In other words, ISO 26000, due to its self-imposed comprehensiveness, cannot be directly applicable like the
above-mentioned codes of conduct. Besides the advice in CD1 
7.3.3 Establishing priorities for addressing core subjects and issues, the identification of case-specific, relevant issues is left to the ISO 26000 user.

It seems to be a good question whether a “direct applicability” of a “guidance standard” can be achieved at all, or whether the characteristic of a guidance standard is to give orientation and advice on how to select the case-specific parts of the guidance. Either way, this should be clarified in the “scope” of the ISO 26000.

In summary:
The ISO 26000 guidance standard will meet pre-existing, practised codes of conduct and other standards and will in some way have to “compete” with them. Competition criteria may include terminology used, encouraging tone and user friendliness (easy to read and understand), volume, substance, and guidance on how to select case-relevant issues.


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