History of ISO 26000

The development history of ISO 26000

— The Idea —

In 2002 COPOLCO (ISO Committee on Consumer Policy) played an important part in the history of ISO 26000: they called on ISO to consider developing a CSR (corporate social responsibility) standard as a complement to the ISO management standards such as ISO 14001 environmental management system and ISO 9001 quality management system standard.

ISO Technical Management Board (TMB) set up a strategic advisory group on social responsibility in 2003 which reported their findings to TMB, and at a conference in Stockholm, in 2004. Here, stakeholders and National Standards Bodies (NSBs) discussed strengths and weaknesses of the proposal. The conference concluded that it was possible for ISO to develop a “CSR” standard but recommended, among other things, that such a standard should not focus on corporates (“C”) only and that the process must adhere to ISO Directives but be flexible in order to accommodate the many new stakeholders expected.


— The Start —

TMB decided to go ahead and issued a New Work Item Proposal (NWIP) to the membership, the NSBs, to vote on. The vote was in favour.

NWIP: 1. Scope of the standard. The standard should

  • assist organizations in addressing their social responsibilities while respecting cultural, societal, environmental and legal differences and economic development conditions;
  • provide practical guidance related to
    – operationalizing social responsibility,
    – identifying and engaging with stakeholders, and
    – enhancing credibility of reports and claims made about social responsibility;
  • emphasize performance results and improvement;
  • increase confidence and satisfaction in organizations among their customers and other stakeholders;
  • be consistent with and not in conflict with existing documents, international treaties and conventions and existing ISO standards;
  • not be intended to reduce government’s authority to address the social responsibility of
    organizations;
  • promote common terminology in the social responsibility field; and
  • broaden awareness of social responsibility.

NWIP 2. Content of the standard
The contents of the standard should be easy to read and understand by non-specialists.

<…>  Follow-up after the standard is published (establishing outreach system, promoting
diffusion, support tools, web use, etc): This is a social responsibility of ISO. Supporting tools in the form of additional ISO documents shall only be developed after explicit
approval by the TMB.

NWIP: 3. Application of the standard
The standard should be applicable by all types of organizations. (e.g. regardless of their size, location, the nature of their activities and products, and the culture, society and environment in which they carry out their activities.)

NWIP: 4 Type of standard
The document shall be an ISO standard providing guidance and shall not be intended for third-party certification. The following wording would be appropriate: “This International Standard provides guidance to enable an organization to formulate SR systems taking into account 
communication of stakeholders. It is not intended for certification purpose, or regulatory or contractual use.” Throughout the standard, the verb form “should” shall be used. Only one standard shall be developed.


— The Delivery —

TMB asked NSBs to volunteer as secretariat for the Working Group TMB set up for delivering the SR-standard. Brazil (ABNT) and Sweden (SIS) were selected to lead the work through a twinned leadership. Information regarding the process 2005-2010 leading up to the publication of ISO 26000 is still available at the former Working Group SR ISO-website.

It took 5 years and 8 international meetings (March 2005 in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Bangkok, Thailand (September 2005); Lisbon, Portugal (May 2006);  Sydney, Australia (January 2007); Vienna, Austria (November 2007); Santiago, Chile (September 2008);  Quebec City, Canada (May 2009) and Copenhagen, Denmark (May 2010)) to handle the 25000+ written comments received from the 450 experts coming from 99 participating countries and 40 international organisations. The schedule of the Copenhagen plenary meeting and the attendance list gives an indication of the process.

ISO CS set up a number of Memorandums of Understanding for information flows with liaison organisations to the process: UN Global Compact, OECD, ILO, and Global Reporting Initiative.

The development process is still today called “the largest stakeholder consultation on social responsibility in the world”.  As illustrated in the WG SR Sectetariats Report at the final plenary (download), the balance between participating stakeholder groups and regions was key to success. The ISO process is multi-stakeholder based but the Working Group developing ISO 26000 developed procedures over and beyond the traditional ISO-process, all in order to strengthen stakeholder engagement. All working group decisions were taken by consensus (absence of sustained opposition, not necessarily unanimity) and not by voting. A strong focus was put on balanced participation with regards to developed/developing countries (i.e. “Twinning”), stakeholder categories, language and gender.

The final vote as of 13 September 2010 was 93 % of the eligible votes in favour.