New committee on SR proposed

The national standards body in France, AFNOR, has submitted a proposal to the ISO membership to create a new ISO technical committee (TC) on social responsibility (SR).

The proposed scope of work:

Standardization in the field of Social Responsibility to provide guidance and framework to all types of organizations, regardless of their size, activity or location. It allows organizations to challenge their own practices, define their corporate social responsibility and thus devise strategies to enhance their contribution to sustainable development.

Types of deliverables foreseen:

The purpose is to develop a set of standards to become the “ISO 26000 series”:
* Standard ISO 26000
* Implementation standard(s)
* Specific social responsibility issues: standards, technical specifications, technical reports

Comment:
AFNOR is known for well managed standardization work and have developed very many succesful supporting national deliverables related to ISO 26000. AFNOR also managed the stakeholder process that developed ISO 20400 Sustainable Procurement – guidance, which is an application of ISO 26000. The TC SR proposal seems well structured. Preferably the word corporate in the scope statement will be deleted.

In the end it is all about the work plan and process of the proposed TC:

* Will the process be as inclusive and balanced as when ISO 26000 was developed?
The 2005-2010 process was the broadest and most balanced stakeholder dialogue in the world, which in turn created legitimacy and credibility. 450 national individual experts from 90 countries (not national delegations) and 40 international organisations, negotiated for 5 years and resolved 25,000+ written comments in a process that was almost balanced between regions (developed/developing), gender, and stakeholder categories. The AFNOR proposal does not contain any set conditions for the process and therefore the proposal is a normal ISO-process: national delegations and stakeholders/experts balance decided by national standards bodies.

* Will the proposed revision of ISO 26000 result in a new generic or short guidance document, or will the carefully negotiated guidance in substance be kept?
The main argument for revising ISO 26000 now is the need to make it more aligned with Agenda 2030 and other developments since 2010. This is a valid reason, but as there are no set conditions for the product it means, according to normal ISO-process rules, that all parts of ISO 26000 can be revised. If the process, as proposed, is less stakeholder balanced, there is clear risk that ISO 26000 may be renegotiated into a shorter and simpler document offering less practical guidance.

* Will the planned additional deliverables include new certifiable standards?
According to the AFNOR representative consulted it is likely.

* Will the ongoing work in related TCs/PCs e.g. sustainable finance, environment, sustainable procurement, sustainable communities, understand and support the proposal?
According to the AFNOR representative consulted the affected existing ISO TCs are in favor. The AFNOR proposal “will bring consistency between the different ISO standards related to governance, social, economic or environmental aspects.”. The challenge here is that normally an ISO TC is not given mandate over another TC, let alone all other TCs. This mandate lies with ISO TMB.

This and much more will be discussed by the 160+ ISO member countries who will vote by July 14. The result of the ballot will be evaluated by ISO Technical Management Board and decided through correspondence, hopefully before mid-August. If any TMB member wants the issue to be discussed at a formal TMB meeting it will instead be decided at the TMB meeting in September.

7 thoughts on “New committee on SR proposed”

  1. Been involved with the development of ISO 26000 as NGO stakeholder, I strongly supported and agreed with AFNOR initiating a NPI for ISO 26000 series of standards.

  2. As the standards are not mandatory to be followed, the efficacy of the standards remain restricted. The need of the hour is to convince governments make some kind of mandatory reporting on social responsibilty

    1. None of the 22,000 ISO-standards are mandatory. Instead, users (e.g. in public policy or in business agreements) can make ISO-standards mandatory based on needs. Sustainability reporting is already mandatory in for example Europe. Should be everywhere.

  3. Actually in EU, Russian Federation, for instance, the reporting of indicators related to SDG is manadatory for big coprorations, this reporting includes SR performance indicators as well. A lot of companies do report to GRI, that also includes SR. So ISO standards especially when followed by the certification, do act as a great tool to demonstrate the compliance and commitment to SR.

  4. Elena, indeed, certification by an accredited third party can be very catalytic and helpful at times. The challenge when seeking one SR/CSR/Sustainability/SDG-certification is that the audit criteria/team/cost becomes very complex. Hence, sub-sets are currently certified e.g. environment, safety, anti-bribery. Then, again, having many certificates can cause more administration/costs.

  5. Fabienne RAMIREZ - AFNOR

    Bonjour,
    Please find proposals from AFNOR to the list of questions considering that the work programme and process will be discussed in the TC when it will be created :

    * Will the process be as inclusive and balanced as when ISO 26000 was developed? The 2005-2010 process was the broadest and most balanced stakeholder dialogue in the world, which in turn created legitimacy and credibility.

    We consider that one of the main challenges of the new technical committee and its first task will be to set an organization that will allow a large, balanced participation a in a spirit of co-construction.
    We consider that the development of new technologies – that did not exist in 2003 and proved to be incredibly efficient in the last few years and especially in the last few months during the Covid-19 crisis – will allow to address the constraints and especially the ones regarding the availability of resources in combination with the traditional working habits. The new TC will be able to consider and discuss an organization combining a multi-stakeholder approach and the ISO process, based on national delegations and on the usual process that leads to the publication of an ISO Standards: submission of a new work item (NWIP), of a draft ISO standard (DIS) and of final draft ISO standard (FDIS).
    Our first proposals would be to create a TF on stakeholders and communication and to propose the creation of Virtual communities for facilitating exchanges, the use of remote meetings to enlarge participation. Other tools can be proposed, for example:
    • Planning WGs’ meetings well ahead
    • Proposing co-convenorship for WGs and twinning programs
    • Developing virtual communities
    • Combining virtual and physical meetings
    Special consideration will be taken for a balanced participation of Stakeholders groups, regional and gender participation.
    Once again, we consider a multi-stakeholder approach can be applied in a TC in a co-construction spirit.

    * Will the proposed revision of ISO 26000 result in a new generic or short guidance document, or will the carefully negotiated guidance in substance be kept?

    It is proposed to develop at least 2 documents:
    The priority will be to revise and upgrade ISO 26000: 2010. Indeed, over the past few years, 15 new ISO TCs were created in relation with SR (e.g. sustainable finance, governance, circular economy…) and their creation and work has an impact on ISO 26000.
    For the revision of ISO 26000, it will be proposed to keep the 7 principles and the 7 core subjects. The revision work will mainly focus on the “governance” core subject and an update on the issues related to the 7 core subjects. Our proposal’s purpose is an evolution of ISO 26000 and not a revolution. This should allow the publication of an upgraded ISO 26000 in less than 2 years.

    A second document will be proposed based on ISO 26000 chapter 7 “Guidance on integrating social responsibility throughout an organization”. It will be an implementation guide to promote real and concrete SR actions.
    * Will the planned additional deliverables include new certifiable standards?

    ISO 26000 remains until today the only international standard that:
    • defines social responsibility (SR) and all its aspects;
    • provides guidelines to all organizations on SR;
    • helps linking SR to the UN SDGs
    ISO 26000 is not a standard for certification and cannot become one because it lists all the aspects of SR and it is impossible for an organization to cover all the issues described in all its activities. This is also one of the many reasons why ISO 26000 must be updated. It should stay THE reference on SR.
    Indeed, the question of certification will be raised for the implementation guide(s). The French stakeholders are in favour of guides supporting evaluation schemes to allow a real credibility of evaluations like the one in labels and prevent from “Social washing”. It is particularly important to promote real SR actions and credible evaluation tools.
    There are several trends showing that certification is unlikely from the ISO perspective:
    • Only few countries developed certification schemes on the matter (e.g. Brazil and Denmark)
    • Numerous evaluation tools like labels were developed around the world.
    • ISO 26030 Guidance on using ISO 26000:2010 in the food chain published in 2019 is not for certification.
    But there is growing evidence that there would a risk to see the emergence of a private certification system if ISO 26000’s relevance were to decline.

    * Will the ongoing work in related TCs/PCs e.g. sustainable finance, environment, sustainable procurement, sustainable communities, understand and support the proposal?
    The technical committee will bring consistency between the different ISO standards related to governance, social, economic or environmental aspects. It will also allow the promotion of all standards that can be used in a social responsibility approach and will enhance the visibility of the work of other related technical committees.
    But the purpose of the new TC is not at all to interfere or compete with the work of existing TCs
    Liaisons will be proposed with all the relevant TCs identified in the proposal or new ones such as biodiversity in a cooperation spirit.

    Best regards

    1. Thank you Fabienne for clarifying the Afnor proposal.

      According to ISO rules a TC must apply the ISO Directives and this means having national delegations, not stakeholder groups, participating. Great that you say that the TC-leadership can promote and offer TC-rules and tools (e.g. webinars) to promote stakeholder participation and balance. But the TC-leadership can not require it. It is reassuring that you state that you will “consider a multi-stakeholder approach can be applied”. In an ISO TC it is up to the partcipating ISO-member bodies to set up national delegations as they see fit, and the Afnor proposal does not guarantee stakeholder balance. Unless ISO Technical Management Board sets other conditions for the proposed TC.

      According to ISO rules a TC can develop as many standards/deliverables they want to, within its scope. The proposed scope is SR and the definition of SR in ISO 26000 is very broad: the contribution from a company/organization to sustainable development. This includes Occupational Health and Safety and the Environment, Quality and Governance. And of course Human Rights, anti-corruption, and labour issues, etcetera. You say that the proposal is to keep the 7 principles and the 7 core subjects but that is not stated in the proposal currently being voted on. In a TC it is up to the partcipating ISO-member bodies to set standards as they see fit within the scope, and the Afnor proposal does not guarantee that principles or core subjects, or any other part of ISO 26000, are to be kept or deleted. The same is true for certifiable SR-standards: nothing in the proposal guarantees that such standards will or will not be developed. Unless ISO Technical Management Board sets other conditions for the proposed TC.

      According to ISO rules a TC can develop any standard they see fit within their scope. This applies to the proposed TC SR, as well sa the already up and running TCs e.g. TC sustainable finance and TC Environment. Thousands, if not all, of the 21,000+ ISO standards/deliverable contribute to sustainable development in one way or another (see ISO and SDG page on ISO website). The Afnor proposal does not, and can not, guarantee that any consistency will be achieved. Unless ISO Technical Management Board sets other conditions for the proposed TC.

      Indeed, a new ISO Technical Committee on Social Responsbility could be a great way to speed up and scale up actions for sustainable development. However, details and guarantees are important, especially to the stakeholders with less resources, influence and rights. I am sure the ISO members will cast an appropriate vote hopefully after a strong local stakeholder consultation, and that ISO Technical Management Board will set appropriate conditions for the proposed TC should it be launched.

      Best regards

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