ISO 26000 Applicability

The standard “ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility” is an experiment. This type of “guidance standard”
is new and the world needs to learn that it offers recommendations, advice, proposals, and orientation; nothing less, nothing more. It does not contain requirements and is voluntary in use. It is directed to organizations, not to individuals. It was published in November 2010, and one of its greatest benefits so far is boosting the global discussion on social responsibility, i.e. the discussion “on what should be a better social behaviour of organizations”.

Characteristics of social responsibility

Social responsibility has to do with societies. But societies differ: by nations, history, culture, religion, level of education, ways of thinking, level of law and regulation – and other factors. Different societies follow different customs and standards, written ones and non-written ones. Societies want to develop but also to maintain their special character. The crucial question is: “What kind of “contribution to society” can an organization offer and realize”

To behave in a socially responsible manner is something full of dynamics because societies’ needs and demands change on a daily basis. These permanently changing priorities challenge the creativity of organizations, staff and leadership, in identifying the currently most important and effective contributions. ISO has taken a wise decision to offer “only” a guidance standard, and has banned certification, jointly with the IAF, the Inter-national Accreditation Forum. ISO indicates in its press release

‘It’s crystal clear. No certification to ISO 26000 guidance standard on Social Responsibility’ that it “will take action against claims of certification to the standard”.

Why is this a ‘wise decision’ Because certification is only a photo-shoot, it tends to make one believe that having made all possible contributions to society, and therefore would kill this crucial creativity. In other words, a “social responsibility certificate” would demonstrate that both the receiver and the issuer may not have sufficiently understood a most essential character of social responsibility.

Organizations are part of society, not entities totally separate. Contributions to society differ significantly, depending on an organization’s size, type and location, the level of staff education, the commitment of leadership: Both, a multinational like Ford and a shoemaker in Ulan Bator, contribute in their specific way and dimension to (their) society!

What is ISO 26000?

In the past five years, the ISO working group has done a great job in providing this 100 pages document. It explains? often in a very detailed manner ? how social responsibility can be understood, and what ?… an organization should.? do. The most important clause 6 describes these core subjects:

  • Organizational governance,
  • Human rights,
  • Labour practices,
  • The environment,
  • Fair operating practices,
  • Consumer issues, and
  • Community involvement and development.

Each core subject offers a number of further issues and possible actions, which users may find helpful. It is each user’s decision to select those issues where his/her organization could most effectively engage itself.

But the document inherits also a number of problems. The major ones are:

1.Certification: in spite of the mentioned ISO and IAF ban, certification bodies widely disregard that the ISO 26000 is not certifiable and offer their services accordingly; more information on observed misconceptions and misuse is available at html/misconceptions_and_misuse.html

2.Definitions: with all due respect of the working group’s endeavours on definitions, those essential ones of international norms of behaviour, organization, and stakeholder do not seem sufficiently mature to make the document easy to understand and easy to use’.

3.Claiming that all core subjects are relevant to all organizations: this claim does not seem realistic; a manufacturer of capital goods will not find consumer issues relevant, charity and welfare organisations may not find fair opera-ting practices relevant, etc.

4. Applicability to all organizations regardless of their type, size and location: interviewed small and medium organizations (SMEs, up to 250 persons) expressed having problems with the volume, the degree of detail, and the often bulky language. SMEs are gene-rally managed by the owner, most of them focus on the local market, their priority is to survive and their “social behaviour” is continuously scrutinised by their local community. Micro-organizations (up to 10 persons, explicitly included in ISO 26000) may find the guidance interesting but rather inapplicable

5.Price: just imagine that your micro-organization received a micro-credit from the Grameen Bank and now needs to buy the ISO 26000 document for some 190 US Dollars from the national standards organizations. These seem to have missed their opportunity to contribute to the global enhancement of social responsibility: they could easily offer the document for printing and shipping costs only!

Using ISO 26000

Other standards already exist covering many issues of the ISO 26000. Basically one would expect ISO 26000 to offer added value. Whether this is true may be found out by checking the core subjects and their issues. For this purpose a 26k-User-Guide has been developed, with a specialised 26k-Issue-Tool, see user_guide_iso_26000.html . This tool, realised as an 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 questions such as

  • Is the core subject and its issues relevant to an organization?
  • What leverage effect does an organization have on this issue?
  • What kind of activities can an organization undertake on this issue?
  • Has the organization ensured that planned activities are not in conflict with applicable law?
  • What impact will the activities have?
  • Which stakeholders should be involved in this issue?


ISO 26000:2010 is a good historical document and can be used in today’s world. However, in several aspects it is not yet good enough!

Every organisation should feel encouraged to try using it. Based on the broadest possible feedback ISO 26000 should be revised in 2013 with the goal of being even more practical. The revised ISO 26000 should have half the volume, be free of redundancies, be written in a clearer language and a more encouraging than demanding tone, and it should express only realistic claims. As the standards’ organisations contribution to society, the document should be available electronically for free and as print version at a fair price.

Maybe you are encouraged to give your feedback now encouraged to ISO now?

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Author Information

Guido Gurtler served as head of corporate standardization and regulation at SIEMENS, for many years, and held leading positions in standardization related organizations. His practical experiences include a family owned enterprise with 30 employees at 3 locations, producing fertilizer, and interaction with SR practising companies. He is bearer of the DIN needle of honour and has been honoured with the IEEE Standards Medallion.

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