Labels and certificates
The “Lean Swing”; or: Will ISO 2600 cause an increase of (over-)administration or an increase of substantial contributions to Social Responsibility?


Technical products can be tested against standardized test measures and procedures. If successful, the result is a test report and authority to affix a label. Widely known examples are labels for electrical safety of the product. Mass produced products must be the same as the tested products and consumers/users can rely on the label to indicate product electrical safety.


‘Certificates’ are different! They are the result of checking work and/or organizational processes against published requirements. Such checks are called ‘audits’. Audits can check organizational processes at a specific point of time. But these processes evolve over time and change. That is why certificates are ‘valid’ only for a specified, limited period of time. At the end of that period, the processes and systems have to be ‘re-audited’ and ‘re-certified’.
Audits and certificates are services one has to pay for, and this has resulted in the development of a very lucrative ‘certification industry’.
Attention, exclusion of liability:
regularly certification institutes issue their terms and conditions and exclude therein any liability, should a damage or loss occur as consequence of an incorrect certificate.

Since SR is driven by its organization-specific dynamics (see SR dynamics), ISO has been wise in stating clearly on its website :

The guidance standard will be published in 2010 as ISO 26000 and be voluntary to use. It will not include requirements and will thus not be a certification standard.”

Organizations in the certification business may, in spite of that clarity, offer an “ISO 26000 Certificate”: such offers are not in line with the ethical behaviour (as defined in the ISO 26000 itself in section “2.6 ethical behaviour;
behaviour that is in accordance with accepted principles of right or good conduct in the context of a particular situation, and consistent with international norms of behaviour.”) and should either be ignored or be answered by referencing the above-mentioned ISO website, and also clause 1 of ISO 26000, which deals with the scope of the guidance standard, where certification is explicitly excluded.

So, if certification to ISO 26000 itself is excluded, what may certification bodies do? Two options are (in November, 2008) already evident and others may come:

  • SR requirement standards
    Test houses and certification/registration bodies develop their own, private, SR process standards and include requirements; they may do this with or without referencing ISO 26000, and offer their certificate.
    Several ISO national member bodies may wish to participate in this business, particularly those that get major parts of their revenues from assessment and issuing certificates (some of them gain more than 50% of their total revenues from assessment and certification):
    In view of the dynamics inherent in SR, these audits and certificates do not make sense and should not be adopted.
  • Socially responsible products
    As another development, offers may appear to audit and certify the social responsibility behind products. Social responsibility is a behaviour, an attitude, an aggregate of actions etc., all performed by human beings, not by products, so the question is: can a product be socially responsible? Surely not, which is why these offers relate, e.g., to the manufacturing and sales processes of a product, and at the end of the day to the company’s social responsibility behaviour (healthy work places, respect for human rights, adequate wages etc.) .), and not the products.
    since this approach denies the dynamics inherent in SR, these audits and certificates also do not add value particularly when the products concerned are the subject of product testing and labelling.

As the project has reached the DIS and FDIS stage (2009 and 2010), there are important statements in the document (N172):

  • the Scope of ISO 26000 DIS (Draft International Standard). Part of its language has been strengthened in the Quebec City meeting (18 to 22 May 2009) that now reads:
    “This International Standard is not a management system standard. It is not intended or appropriate for certification purposes or regulatory or contractual use. Any offers to certify, or claims to be certified, to ISO 26000 would be a misrepresentation of the intent and purpose of the International Standard.”
  • The other important part is in the Fair Operating Practices section where it reads:
    “ Organizations and fair operating practices
    Fair operating practices concern ethical conduct in an organization’s dealings with other organizations and individuals. These include relationships between organizations and government agencies, as well as between organizations and their partners, suppliers, contractors and competitors, and the associations of which they are members.”

Certification bodies are “organizations”, companies are “organizations”. The scope says that ISO 26000 is not for certification.
In consequence: offering an ISO 26000 certificate is neither ethical nor following the guidance in ISO 26000 itself.

The “Lean Swing”
Or: Will ISO 2600 cause an increase of (over-)administration or an increase of substantial contributions to Social Responsibility?

The ‘Lean-Swing’
For responsible entrepreneurs this is not new:
— The smaller an organization, the lesser administration it can afford…and
— The larger an organization, the greater is the temptation to believe it could afford

All kinds of certification include administrative efforts that won’t pay in the case of the ISO 26000 guidance document. This may have been one of the deliberations of Task Group2 Communications within ISO’s Working Group ISO/TMB/WG SR to provide a text on how to communicate the successful use of ISO 26000 without the help of service organizations external to the organization like consultants or certifiers.

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