In September 2012, almost 2 years after its publication, it seemed to be worthwhile to include a short characterization of ISO 26000, what it is, what it is not, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and to add some information on other social responsibility guidance documents, which are available for free. The obligation to purchase ISO 26000 may well be some disadvantage for its global proliferation and use. Another thought is that ISO 26000 came into life, naturally, while other guidance documents, standard, codes etc. were already practically used. The quick look into the ISO 26000 environment:

These two sides can be downloaded here, if you like.

The document on strengths and weaknesses of ISO 26000 was developed for the author’s participation in the European Commission’s workshop on “Better CSR advice for European SMEs” in June 2012 in Berlin, was further developed and briefly discussed in the ISG (industry stakeholder group) and amended according to the colleagues’ suggestions.

ISO 26000 strengths and weaknesses

by Guido Gürtler
(not claiming completeness…)

rev 2, 2012-09-05

What is ISO 26000?


  • a widely agreed ISO standard
  • the first international “consensus” about what SR is
  • a 100 pages document including references and bibliography
  • formally published as a “standard”, however
  • as regards content, a guidance document (offering recommendations and orientation)
  • structured into 7 core subjects and 37 issues
  • including an annex with a list of existing tools and standards (not an exhaustive list)
  • claiming that all core subjects are relevant to all organizations, but not all issues
  • claiming to be applicable to all types and sizes of organizations regardless of their location
What ISO 26000 is not?


  • neither a requirements’ standard, nor a management standard, nor a management systems standard (like ISO 9001 or 14001)
  • therefore not for audits and certification,
  • not for use or reference in any kind of private or public contracts as a requirement, including procurement
  • not for assessments (assessments would have to be based on requirements)
The strengths of ISO 26000


  • broad international consensus (ISO consensus does not mean unanimity)
  • enhancing the international SR debate, building on ISO’s reputation
  • attempting to address all types and sizes of organizations, not only industry
  • freedom of use: offers guidance where users may select from the parts judged relevant at a particular point of time
  • focusing on 7 core subjects, which may be the most important ones at international level
  • offering rather detailed explanations and suggestions for the 37 issues
  • good orientation for organizations that start their SR journey
  • good basis for company-external discussions like stakeholder dialogues
  • good basis for cross-border dialogues
The weaknesses of ISO 26000


  • the need to purchase the document (prices vary from €50 to €170, see ,while other documents like the UNGC , GRI and many others are freely available, see further down here)
  • the explicit inclusion of micro-organizations (less than 10 persons)
  • volume of hundred pages
  • several weak definitions (like organisation, stakeholder, international norms of behaviour)
  • international orientation
  • turgid language in many parts
  • limiting the consideration of SR to 7 core subjects and 37 issues (isn’t SR in real life much more variable?)
  • a textbook, with a teaching style in several clauses
  • containing a number of sentences without any meaning
  • listing recommendations without being able to specify what has already been regulated by national governments
  • opening a wide range for misconceptions and misuse like certification (BV, others) or assessment (SGS, others), see
  • sloppy language (like implementation of guidance, guideline instead of guidance, managing social responsibility)
  • too much focus on organisation-internal operations instead of the identification of possible contributions to society
  • complexity of the document
SR related other global documents, freely available:

UNGC United Nations Global Compact and its ten principles

GRI Global Reporting Initiative

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises,

ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy—ed_emp/—emp_ent/documents/publication/wcms_101234.pdf

ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_176149.pdf

UN Guiding Principles for Human Rights and Business

An employer’s guide to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights – an interpretive guide


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