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User Guide ISO 26000

This site is designed to help using ISO 26000 in an easy and correct way, without needing consultancy or other external services. The recommendations are developed under a user perspective, and may be particularly useful for small and medium organizations. The 26k-Issue-Tool is an inherent part of the 26k-User-Guide.

A proposal is included on how to correctly and successfully communicate the use of ISO 26000.

The authors would be happy to receive your comments and proposals for further developing the user guide: please send them to [email protected] and [email protected].

There is some background information available, which you may find interesting: on history, features and achievements, and an estimation of main user groups.

                                   To download related documents, please go to this link.


Contents of the 26k-User-Guide, edition  October 201026k-User-Guide (cover)


Step 1: You need to purchase the standard

Step 2: ISO 26000 is not for certification, regulation or contracts

Step 3: You should study the ISO 26000 document carefully

Step 4: You decide whether ISO 26000 fits your needs and expectations

Step 5: You can identify the relevance of issues, your possible activities and their impact
The 26k-Issue-Tool
               How to apply the Issue Tool?
               What are the results?

Step 6: You can communicate your responsible use of ISO 26000



This user guide’s purpose: It aims at facilitating the understanding and the responsible, correct, and efficient use of ISO 26000 (contents, see attachment). The “26k-Issue-Tool and other useful tools are offered. The application of such tools does not require the services of organization or external parties such as consultants, trainers or auditors. Included is a suggestion, in line with ISO’s proposal, on how to communicate the successful use of ISO 26000.

By its general nature, this user guide is applicable to all types and sizes of organizations. More specific sector user guides are justified and may build on this general one.

Weblink: http://www.26k-estimation.com/html/application_phase.html#CorrectUse
(2010-10) offers a very short set of slides on the
 correct use of ISO 26000
Weblink: An identical version of the ISO 26000 user guide as presented here is available in Word and PDF format.

Step 1: You need to purchase the standard

ISO Standards are sold by ISO member organizations and their publishing houses; their addresses are available at
http://www.iso.org/iso/about/iso_members.htm (2010-10).

If you compare the listed pricing available on the national standardization bodies’ websites you will notice great disparity by each national ISO member. The price of the same document may vary from around 200 Euros (or 300 USD) to only 18 Euros. It is important to note that the documents being sold by ISO member bodies are exactly the same documents. There is no element of inferiority on account of a price difference.

TIP 1: Investigate ISO national member bodies’ sales offers before buying the document. You may take advantage of looking at a collection of prices found, at http://www.26k-estimation.com/html/best_prices_for_iso_26000.html#26kBestPrices


Step 2: ISO 26000 is not for certification, regulation or contracts

As a guidance document ISO 26000 is essentially different to “normal” standards: it does not contain requirements and therefore cannot be the basis for certification, measurement or conformity assessment.

Characteristics of the document
 ISO 26000 is voluntary in use. It is a “guidance document“ that offers orientation, advice, proposals, and recommendations; from this “offer’' you may chose those parts which you consider most reasonable and effective to follow.
It is an international standard” only for one reason: being published by ISO and its member bodies. So, through the publication format it is an international standard but with regard to its content, it is a
guidance document.

The ISO 26000 document explains its scope clearly:

  • This International Standard is not a management system standard. It is not intended or appropriate for certification purposes or regulatory or contractual use. Any offer to certify, or claims to be certified, to ISO 26000 would be a misrepresentation of the intent and purpose and a misuse of this International Standard. As this International Standard does not contain requirements, any such certification would not be a demonstration of conformity with this International Standard.”

Not to be used for certification

It is important to realize that ISO 26000 is not for “audits” or “certification”. It is not a “management system standard” like ISO 9001 or ISO 14001. It is neither a “guideline” nor a “standard” which you would have to apply as a whole or to “implement”.

Since certification is a business, there is the risk that some organizations (including sub-organizations of standards organizations) develop their own social responsibility standards containing requirements, so that they can be used for certification. If such standards are declared to be “based on” or “in line with” ISO 26000 (or using a similar wording) this is considered a break of faith because ISO 26000 has been deliberately developed as a guidance standard without requirements.

Certification of social responsibility would be counterproductive to its further enhancement and the required flexibility in taking most effective actions. Audits and certificates present only a photo shot, the picture of a status at a given moment, while SR is dynamic and effective SR actions are driven by changing priorities that follow actual demands.

TIP 2: Certification bodies should respect the scope of ISO 26000. If any such body disregards this, you should make their representatives aware of its correct use, and deny certification offers because they are misusing ISO 26000.

TIP 3: According to the ISO 26000 definition, certification bodies are “organizations”:
ask them how they apply ISO 26000 to their own organization and how they communicate about.

TIP 4Disapprove of certification because it is counter-productive to the enhancement of social responsibility.

Weblink:  http://www.26k-estimation.com/html/certfication__no_.html#certification-a-word (2010-10)

Not to be used for regulatory purposes

It can be observed that levels and details of national regulation differ significantly between countries. Some governments - particularly in countries with less developed economies and their society related law and regulation - may feel tempted to declare ISO 26000 national law or regulation. Since the wording of the ISO 26000 scope is unambiguous such use would be an evident case of misuse.

TIP 5: If you become aware of a government’s tendency or activity, do not hesitate to inform them that ISO 26000 must not to be used for regulatory purposes.

Not to be used for contractual purposes

ISO 26000 is directed at an individual organization’s use. Its scope excludes contractual use. ISO 26000 must not be referenced in any kind of business-to-business or government-to-business contract. In consequence, making the ISO 26000 a requirement or an obligation in procurement, purchase contracts, terms of delivery or specifications, or in any other kind of contractual document, would be an evident case of misuse.

TIP 6: If you become aware of a draft contract that intends to make the use of ISO 26000 in any way obligatory, do not hesitate to inform the originator that ISO 26000 is not intended to be applicable for contractual use.

Weblink:  http://www.26k-estimation.com/html/misconceptions_and_misuse.html (2010-10) on most frequent
misconceptions (errors) and misuse (wilful abuse).


Step 3: You should study the ISO 26000 document carefully

According to its Design Specification (N049) ISO 26000 is supposed to be an easy to understand and easy to use guidance document. Therefore, its use does not require any consultancy services, audits or training even though such offers are mushrooming. Participants could easily be charged several hundred Dollars. So-called “trainers” may be well acquainted with the text of ISO 26000. The problem is that they cannot have deep enough knowledge of your organization’s internal particularities and external relations; furthermore, trainers (like auditors and certifiers) usually do not take any responsibility.

Anyway, YOU must study the document and it is worthwhile taking your time to learn what some 400 experts from all over the world have identified as social responsibility, and what has been agreed on. You will quickly find out that Clause 6 is important for the use of ISO 26000:

  • It gives guidance (recommendations like “…an organization should…”)
  • It includes the 7 core subjects organizational governance, human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development, and
  • It addresses several issues on each core subject.

When further studying the different clauses you will also come across some critical approaches and concepts which found their way into the document.

One is that ISO 26000 expresses too general a claim that “all core subjects are relevant for all organizations...” Since this is not realistic, the 26k-Issue-Tool has been designed to help you find out the relevance of core subjects and issues for your organization, see Step 5.

The next critical item is that the relations between ISO 26000 and applicable law need to be handled with care, because ISO 26000 does not explicitly say that applicable law prevails. For example, the core subject Labour Practices mentions International Labour Standards of ILO (International Labour Organization), but does not say explicitly that these international labour standards, having been transposed into national law, prevail over ISO 26000 guidance.

TIP 7: According to the different levels of national law and regulation several ISO 26000 issues may be covered by such law and regulation. Consult your association and identify those issues because ISO 26000 guidance basically is not relevant in such cases.

Step 4: You decide whether ISO 26000 fits your needs and expectations

After you have studied the guidance document you might be concerned as to whether it fits your needs and expectations and whether your organization falls within the scope. A starting point for your considerations should be that ISO 26000 is directed at all types and sizes of organizations, not at individuals. The definition of “organization” is, therefore, most important; it reads:

                    “2.12 – entity or group of people and facilities with an arrangement of
              responsibilities, authorities and relationships and identifiable objectives

More precisely, and according to general understanding, an organization is characterized by different levels of responsibility and repartition of responsibilities between these levels; a good example of a definition reads:

“Social unit of people, systematically arranged and managed to meet a need or to pursue collective goals on a continuing basis. All organizations have a management structure that determines relationships between functions and positions, and subdivides and delegates roles, responsibilities, and authority to carry out defined tasks. Organizations are open systems in that they affect and are affected by the environment beyond their boundaries.”  (Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/organization.html (2010-10))

Therefore, the conclusion is drawn: the smaller an entity is, the less it may meet the ISO 26000 definition of organization.

TIP 8: Only YOU decide whether your entity is an organization as defined in ISO 26000.


Step 5: You can identify the relevance of issues, your possible activities and their impact

Taking into account the structure and the scope of ISO 26000, you may be irritated in attempting to decipher whether all or parts of the document are relevant for you. ISO 26000 expresses the general claim that “all core subjects are relevant for all organizations, but not all issues of a core subject.” This is not realistic, because:

TIP 9: Only YOU have the insight and can decide whether a core subject or its issues are relevant to your organization.

The 26k-Issue-Tool

The 26k-Issue-Tool supports you in selecting relevant issues. Answering just a few questions will help you in reaching the goal of responsible, consistent, thought-through and self-dependent use of ISO 26000. The important question is: To which degree can your organization really influence the status and the development of society if you engage in an issue?

How to apply the 26k-Issue-Tool       The Excel sheet is an easy to use aid; it reproduces the core subjects and issues, and allows a check of effectiveness per issue and an estimation of the impact of your possible actions by seeking answers to the following questions:

  • Is the core subject and its issues deemed relevant to your organization?
  • What leverage effect has your organization on this issue?
  • What kind of activities can your organization undertake on this issue?
  • Have you ensured that planned activities are not in conflict with applicable law?
  • What impact will your activities have?
  • Which stakeholder do you involve in this issue?

The 26k-Issue-Tool is to be processed line by line, i.e. “issue by issue”; and, if the answer in one box is not positive, the line is done and you continue with the next issue.

What are the results?       You have thoroughly analyzed the guidance your organization can reasonably follow and your deliberations are filed, e.g. for use as an update after an appropriate period of time, as input to your stakeholder dialogue, or in liaison with your other partners. You have identified possible activities where ISO 26000 guidance can be effectively applied. You may have further identified issues where you wish to engage in depth with specific stakeholders or where you need to know more about the real impacts of your activities.

TIP 10: Do not be surprised if not all issues of a core subject are deemed relevant for your organization.

TIP 11: Do not be too happy with the analysis because an ISO document cannot cover all possibilities of how to enhance socially responsible behaviour; please feel encouraged to look for additional options and means that could be positively applied in your unique situation and meet an actual societal need.

TIP 12: Use the findings of your 26k-Issue-Tool application as input for your stakeholder dialogue.

Weblink: for downloading the 26k-Issue-Tool click here

There are also other recognized management tools - free for use – like the “EFQM Framework for CSR and Excellence Model” – which offer a non-prescriptive assessment framework that you could use for your organization regardless of size, sector or maturity.

TIP 13: Feel encouraged using the EFQM model (and others) and making your own estimation of the potential added value of ISO 26000; use this information for your stakeholder dialogue and communication.

Weblink: http://www.efqm.org/en/PdfResources/teaser-frameworkCSR180609.pdf (this shows the structure but not the complete document; 2010-10)

It seems worthwhile mentioning initiatives of industry associations, governments, and international organizations, some with regional or national focus. Either you may be able to join as a member, or make use of them as platforms for the exchange of practical experiences. You find some of them listed in Annex A to ISO 26000.

Additionally you may be aware that social responsibility guidance is also offered by the trade or industry association you are member of. This is worthwhile to check because specific issues of your field of activity and location may be addressed in a more tightly focused way.

TIP 14: It is recommended that you compare ISO 26000 with associations’ codes of ethics or codes of conduct (they are often much shorter documents and cover the ISO 26000 main issues in a similar way) and decide on that basis which “code” or “standard” to follow.

TIP 15: The smaller your organization the more useful is it to consult the association where your organization is a member of, and conduct the analysis as well as the stakeholder dialogue jointly with representatives of the association and/or other association members. You could also jointly establish platforms to exchange best practices and experiences.

TIP 16: Search on the Internet for alternative offers which may better meet your expectations and feel free to use more focused initiatives and consider ISO 26000 as a good complementary offer. Add a related remark to your ISO 26000 communication.


Step 6: You can communicate your responsible use of ISO 26000

Your organization certainly already has long-term relationships to your stakeholders or may detect new possibilities to communicate by using the 26k-Issue-Tool.

While communicating your responsible use of ISO 26000 is good practice, consideration for proportionality is necessary. The demands on resources inherent to the reporting required of an organization need to reflect the size of that organization. Therefore, for example, a one page report should be acceptable in general, and particularly from SMOs. You may wish to include the identified action items into your communication.

The ISO WG SR Task Group 2 on “Communication” published the following note on the question how an organization can refer to its use of ISO 26000, in its December 2009 Newsletter:

“ISO 26000 is a voluntary International Standard providing guidance on social responsibility. Organizations of all types are encouraged to acknowledge their support and use of ISO 26000 as follows:
“Organization” recognizes ISO 26000 as a reference document that provides guidance on social responsibility.
and /or
“Organization” has used ISO 26000 as a guide to integrate social responsibility into our values and practices.

A more practical text that could be individually amended reads:


ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility
Communication on its application

We hereby state that our organization is well acquainted with ISO 26000, its content, and how it may be used to prioritize and to work with social responsibility.

We recognize ISO 26000 as a reference document that provides guidance on social responsibility. We have used ISO 26000 as a guide to integrate social responsibility into our values and practices.

More details are given on <our website> and/or in <our report>. For any further information please contact the undersigned.

Date and place…..                 Signature(s)…..                           Address

By communicating this way, and signing with your signature, it is evident that you take the self-instilled responsibility seriously. Anyone interested, be it customers, authorities, stakeholders or even the public at large can expect your communication to be
well-founded and correct and will highly appreciate this. It will be of a higher value than any statement by any party external to your organization since they usually do not assume any responsibility in cases of differing interpretations or any other economic or law-related difficulties.

TIP 17: Practice this ISO-recommended type of communication and use it towards your customers, suppliers, governments or any other stakeholder.

TIP 18: Accept this type of communication from your partners.

Weblink: The ISO reference for this communication is FAQ number 9 at http://isotc.iso.org/livelink/livelink/fetch/2000/2122/830949/3934883/3935096/07_gen_info/faq.html (2010-10). The full Newsletter is available at
http://www.26k-estimation.com/html/how_to_use_iso_26000.html#down-docs (2010-10). The proposed communication can be downloaded from this link, too, as a Word document.


Attachment 1: ISO 26000 - Contents

Contents                                                                                               Page

Foreword                                                                                                                  vi

Introduction                                                                                                             vii

1 Scope                                                                                                                        1

2 Terms and definitions                                                                                           2


3 Understanding social responsibility                                                                   5

3.1 The social responsibility of organizations: Historical background          5

3.2 Recent trends in social responsibility                                                            5

3.3 Characteristics of social responsibility                                                           6

3.4 The state and social responsibility                                                                  9


4 Principles of social responsibility                                                                      10

4.1General                                                                                                                10

4.2 Accountability                                                                                                   10

4.3 Transparency                                                                                                    10

4.4 Ethical behavior                                                                                               11

4.5 Respect for stakeholder interests                                                                12

4.6 Respect for the rule of law                                                                            12

4.7 Respect for international norms of behavior                                            13

4.8 Respect for human rights                                                                              13


5 Recognizing social responsibility and engaging stakeholders                  14

5.1 General                                                                                                              14

5.2 Recognizing social responsibility                                                                  14

5.3 Stakeholder identification and engagement                                            16


6 Guidance on social responsibility core subjects                                            19

6.1 General                                                                                                               19

6.2 Organizational governance                                                                           21

6.3 Human rights                                                                                                    23

6.4 Labour practices                                                                                              33

6.5 The environment                                                                                             40

6.6 Fair operating practices                                                                                 48

6.7 Consumer issues                                                                                               51

6.8 Community involvement and development                                              60


7 Guidance on integrating social responsibility throughout an
    organization                                                                                                         69

7.1 General                                                                                                              69

7.2 The relationship of an organization's characteristics to
       social responsibility                                                                                          69

7.3 Understanding the social responsibility of an organization                   70

7.4 Practices for integrating social responsibility throughout
       an organization                                                                                                74

7.5 Communication on social responsibility                                                     76

7.6 Enhancing credibility regarding social responsibility                               78

7.7 Reviewing and improving an organization's actions and practices
      related to social responsibility                                                                       80

7.8 Voluntary initiatives for social responsibility                                             82


Annex A (informative) Examples of voluntary initiatives and tools for
social responsibility                                                                                                 85

Annex B (informative) Abbreviated terms                                                        98

Bibliography                                                                                                             99




Background: Project history, features and achievements

It is worthwhile to acknowledge some crucial facts before studying the guidance document in detail because this may be helpful in judging the value of the various recommendations (”issues”) and their usefulness for your organization:

  • ISO is renowned for its technical standards; in the field of technical standards one can assume a mutual technical understanding and language of expert engineers towards standardizing dimensions, quality of material, test methods, and limits etc.
  • The ISO 26000 project is a significant experiment in the area of social or societal or society related standards, where experts don’t necessarily see a good reason for harmonizing societal items or viewpoints. On foot of different histories and cultures, existing societal differences tend to maintain their relativity to one another rather than conform. Therefore, ISO was prudent in deciding that ISO 26000 shall be a                                        guidance standard
    that offers orientation, advice, proposals, and recommendations but does not contain requirements for any testing of limits. Thus, the different character of societies is respected.
  • ISO began this project following an initiative of the ISO COPOLCO COnsumer POLicy COmmittee,
  • Size of the  “working group” (400+ persons) and its proper management; project time: five years; project cost estimation including September 2009: more than 72 million US Dollars
  • Balance between users and developers of the guidance document:
     It seems worthwhile to know that the six stakeholder groups are represented in the Working Group in a fairly balanced manner (left chart) and have a rather equal say but that does not match well with the estimation of expected users (right chart).
  • Stakeholders involved representing society are  industry, labor, government, NGOs, consumers, and Services/Support/ Research/Others; yet no representatives of culture, religion, public health, history etc.
  • Representativeness of stakeholder groups: particularly ISO member bodies of smaller countries could not staff their delegation to the ISO 26000 Working Group with representatives of all six stakeholder groups,
  • Market orientation: A user survey for ensuring the greatest possible market acceptance of the guidance document was not performed by the working group.
  • No guidance to governments:
    ** lines
    155 and 156 read: “Governmental organizations, like any other organization, may wish to use this International Standard. However, it is not intended to replace, alter or in any way change the obligations of the state.”
    This explains that an ISO standard may be used by governments, but only by governmental administrative units, because
    ** line 303 on the definition of “organization” reads:
    “NOTE 1 For the purpose of this International Standard organization does not include government executing duties that are exclusive to the state.”
    This explains that ISO has no possibility to provide guidance to governments on their most privileged duties like issuing a state constitution and a reliable (and properly enforced) system of laws and regulations for protecting life, property and the environment.

    This seems worthwhile to note because (a) one can observe that the greatest deficits in social responsibility exist in countries of poor governmental systems, (b) it is well known that industry or any other organization cannot substitute government action, and (c) a minimum level of reliable governmental systems is a prerequisite for the success of non-governmental social responsibility initiatives
  • Nomination of experts and observers by the ISO member bodies has been a trustful process because to-date there are no qualification criteria for “social responsibility experts”,
  • Involvement of consultants in the ISG (Industry Stakeholder Group): while consultants are one of the many parties of the SSRO stakeholder group (Services/Support/ Research/Others), it is unusual that consultants can be nominated as industry representatives by their ISO member body (see N048rev1; “Excluded are enterprises and other organizations that offer services related to standardization, including certification, registration, accreditation, and related consulting services (SRI services) that pose an inherent conflict of interest. General consulting or advisory services are also excluded unless they have been retained for the purpose of representing enterprises or employer organization in the ISO/TMB/WG/SR process or nominated to represent industry by their national standard bodies”).
    This happened in at least four cases while it is generally well known that consultants have here a conflict of interest.
  • Compromises were identified to have occurred among the six stakeholder groups, and between the narrower votes according to the ISO Directives on CD (Committee Draft), see http://www.26k-estimation.com/html/cd_voting_results.html#CD-Voting-results  and DIS,
  • In addition to the nationally nominated experts and observers, there is also the involvement of some 40 D-Liaison organizations (like IOE International Organization of Employers, NORMAPME, or ICC International Chamber of Commerce) in gathering input as broadly as possible from outside the national ISO member bodies.

    Taking the given circumstances into account, the resulting guidance is admirable.


Background: Estimation of main user groups
In the scope of the DIS it is stated that it, ISO 26000 provides guidance for all types and sizes of organizations, everywhere, and micro organizations are explicitly included. This is a huge expectation observing that a realistic estimation of the main user groups looks as follows:

Folie5User% by size



Here you can download the referenced documents:

- The 26k-User-Guide is identical with this site and can be downloaded as a Word or a PDF document.
    The 2010-10-10 edition has been replaced by the 2010-10-29 edition, whereby the only change is the name
    change of the 26k-Issue-Tool.

- The 26k-Issue-Tool is an Excel file; please note and respect the copyright clause as part of the tool;

    the 26k-Issue-Tool is identical to previous editions of the Excel file. Only the file name has been changed from
    26k-Check-Tool to 26k-Issue-Tool  for consistency reasons because other types of tools may be added and should be named
    It may also be intersting to have look at the more detailed description of the 26k-issue-tool and the proposal for
    self-assessment to ISO 26000

- WG SR Task Group 2 recommendation on communication

- The proposal for your Communication on using ISO 26000

- Correct use of ISO 26000: You may find this focused set of slides useful, in addition to the 26k-User-Guide

- Document N048rev1 gives the definition of stakeholder groups developing ISO 26000



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