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ISO 26000 – The Standard for Social Responsibility

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We live in a socially conscious environment wherein employees and consumers prefer to work for and spend their money with businesses that prioritise social development within their community instead of being entirely profit driven. Organisations are encouraged to integrate socially beneficial practices and programs into their business model and overall practice. 

Social responsibility, also known as corporate social responsibility, can be defined as “the obligation of an organisation’s management towards the welfare and interests of the society in which it operates”. For an organisation to continue operating efficiently and effectively, it must maintain a healthy balance between pursuing economic performance and addressing and adhering to societal issues. 

Managers must strive to enact policies that promote an ethical balance between the dual mandates of profitability and giving back to or benefiting society. 

Social responsibility involves a variety of activities including:

  • Partnering with the local community
  • Socially responsible investment into the community
  • Developing and maintaining good relationships with employees and customers, and
  • Environmental protection and sustainability

ISO 26000 also defines seven key principles of socially responsible behaviour: 

Accountability

The organisation is responsible for the consequences of its decisions and business activities. 

Transparency

The organisation should be clear about their policies, decisions and activities. 

Ethical behaviour

An organisation’s behaviour must be based on honesty and integrity. 

Respect for stakeholder interests

In addition to owners, members, and customers, other individuals or groups may also have rights, claims, or specific interests that should be considered. 

Respect for the rule of law

An organisation must adhere to all applicable laws and regulations. 

Respect for international norms of behaviour

An organisation must consider and respect international norms of behaviour while still adhering to the principle of respect for the rule of law. 

Respect for human rights

An organisation must respect and foster the rights set out in the International Bill of Human Rights. This includes situations where human rights are not protected. 

There are many interpretations for corporate social responsibility initiatives. Most are based on sustainability in four different categories: 

Environmental Sustainability Initiatives

Environmental sustainability initiatives enacted by organisations are focused on two main areas: limiting pollution and reducing greenhouse gases. An increase in awareness of environmental issues prompts consumers to want to do business with environmentally conscious organisations that take the necessary steps to preserve and protect the planet’s resources. 

Ethical Responsibility

Ethical responsibility relates to the wellbeing of employees by implementing fair labour practices for both the organisation’s employees and the supplier’s employees. Ensuring fair labour practices means that there will be no gender, race or religious discrimination among employees, and everyone will receive equal and fair remuneration based on their workplace responsibilities. 

Philanthropic responsibility

Philanthropic initiatives involve the donation of an organisation’s time, money or resources to aid under privileged people and charities. Donations can be made to a variety of worthy causes such as disaster relief programs, the provision of clean water to rural communities and the establishment of educational programs in underdeveloped countries. 

Economic responsibility

Economic responsibility focuses on practices that facilitate the long-term growth of the business, while also meeting the standards set for ethical, environmental and philanthropic practices. Economic responsibility is focused on creating a balance between business, environmental and philanthropic practices. 

This is where the ISO 26000 standard comes into play… 

What is ISO 26000?

ISO 26000, which was developed by a group of 500 experts, was published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 2010 and is an international standard that aims to help organisations evaluate and address their responsibility to the community. ISO 26000:2010 provides guidance instead of setting requirements – this means that businesses cannot be certified to this standard. Instead it clarifies what social responsibility is and helps businesses to translate these principles into effective actions. ISO 26000 can be applied globally and is aimed at all types of organisations regardless of its size, location and industry. 

In addition to providing consumers with satisfactory service and quality products, businesses must operate in a socially responsible manner. Pressure to do so comes from consumers, governments, associations and the public as a whole. 

The benefits of implementing ISO 26000

By implementing the ISO 26000 standard, organisations can enjoy the following benefits (to name but a few):

  • An advantage over competitors that don’t follow these guidelines
  • A better reputation in the community
  • The increased ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients or users
  • An increase in employees’ morale, commitment and productivity
  • Better relationships with other companies, governments, the media, suppliers, customers and the community in which it operates

The International Organization for Standardization explains that, in applying ISO 26000, it is advisable that an organisation take into account the societal, environmental, legal, cultural, political and organisational diversity, as well as differences in economic conditions, while being consistent with international norms of behaviour. 

Management within organisations must realise that, due to the increase in global environmental awareness, corporate social responsibility is no longer an optional practice – it is mandatory. 

By practicing social responsibility and supporting non-profit organisations, businesses can improve their public image. Additionally, making monetary donations will help to build strong partnerships within the community.