ISO 26000 – The essentials

This page provides a basic understanding of the voluntary International Standard, ISO 26000:2010, Guidance for social responsi-bility. It aims to be a first step in helping all types of organization in both the public and private sectors to consider implementing ISO 26000 as a way to achieve the benefits of operating in a socially responsible manner.

Why is social responsibility important?

Organizations around the world, and their stakeholders, are becoming increasingly aware of the need for and benefits of socially responsible behaviour. The objective of social responsibility is to contribute to sustainable development.

An organization's performance in relation to the society in which it operates and to its impact on the environment has become a critical part of measuring its overall performance and its ability to continue operating effectively. This is, in part, a reflection of the growing recognition of the need to ensure healthy ecosystems, social equity and good organizational governance. In the long run, all organizations' activities depend on the health of the world's ecosystems. Organizations are subject to greater scrutiny by their various stakeholders.

What benefits can be achieved by implementing ISO 26000?

The perception and reality of an organization's performance on social responsibility can influence, among other things:

  • Competitive advantage
  • Reputation
  • Ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients or users
  • Maintenance of employees' morale, commitment and productivity
  • View of investors, owners, donors, sponsors and the financial community
  • Relationship with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers and the community in which it operates.

Who can benefit from ISO 26000 and how?
ISO 26000 provides guidance for all types of organization, regardless of their size or location, on:

  1. Concepts, terms and definitions related to social responsibility
  2. Background, trends and characteristics of social responsibility
  3. Principles and practices relating to social responsibility
  4. Core subjects and issues of social responsibility
  5. Integrating, implementing and promoting socially responsible behaviour throughout the organization and, through its policies and practices, within its sphere of influence
  6. Identifying and engaging with stakeholders
  7. Communicating commitments, performance and other information related to social responsibility.

ISO 26000 is intended to assist organizations in contributing to sustainable development. It is intended to encourage them to go beyond legal compliance, recognizing that compliance with law is a fundamental duty of any organization and an essential part of their social responsibility. It is intended to promote common understanding in the field of social responsibility, and to complement other instruments and initiatives for social responsibility, not to replace them.

In applying ISO 26000, it is advisable that an organization take into consideration societal, environmental, legal, cultural, political and organizational diversity, as well as differences in economic conditions, while being consistent with international norms of behaviour.

Not for certification
ISO 26000 is not a management system standard. It is not intended or appropriate for certification purposes or regulatory or contractual use. Any offer to certify, o r claims to be certified, to ISO 26000 would be a misrepresentation of the intent and purpose and a misus e of this International Standard. As ISO 26000 does not contain requirements, any such certification would not be a demonstration of conformity with this International Standard.

What specifically does ISO 26000 contain?
ISO 26000 addresses seven core subjects of social responsibility define d in the standard and portrayed in the following graphic. The figures refer to the corresponding clauses in the standard.

Outline of ISO26000

Clause title Clause number              Description of clause contents
Scope Clause 1 Defines the scope of ISO 26000 and identifies certain limitations and exclusions.
Terms and definitions Clause 2 Identifies and provides the definition of key terms that are of fundamental importance for understanding social responsibility and for using ISO 26000.
Understanding social responsibility Clause 3 Describes the important factors and conditions that have influenced the development of social responsibility and that continue to affect its nature and practice. It also describes the concept of social responsibility itself – what it means and how it applies to organizations.

The clause includes guidance for small and medium-sized organizations on the use of ISO 26000.
Principles of social responsibility Clause 4 Introduces and explains the principles of social responsibility.
Recognizing social responsibility and engaging stakeholders Clause 5 Addresses two practices of social responsibility: an organization's recognition of its social responsibility, and its identification of and engagement with its stakeholders. It provides guidance on the relationship between an organization, its stakeholders and society, on recognizing the core subjects and issues of social responsibility and on an organization's sphere of influence.
Guidance on social responsibility core subjects Clause 6 Explains the core subjects and associated issues relating to social responsibility. For each core subject, information has been provided on its scope, its relationship to social responsibility, related principles and considerations, and related actions and expectations.
Guidance on integrating social responsibility throughout an organization Clause 7 Provides guidance on putting social responsibility into practice in an organization. This includes guidance related to: understanding the social responsibility of an organization, integrating social responsibility throughout an organization, communication related to social responsibility, improving the credibility of an organization regarding social responsibility, reviewing progress and improving performance and evaluating voluntary initiatives for social responsibility.
Examples of voluntary initiatives and tools for social responsibility Annex A Presents a non-exhaustive list of voluntary initiatives and tools related to social responsibility that address aspects of one or more core subjects or the integration of social responsibility throughout an organization.
Abbreviated terms Annex B Contains abbreviated terms used in ISO 26000.
Bibliography Annex B Includes references to authoritative international instruments and ISO standards that are referenced in ISO 26000 as source material.

    • How does an organization go about implementing ISO 26000?
      After considering the characteristics of social responsibility and its relationship with sustainable development (Clause 3), it is suggested that an organization should review the principles of social responsibility described in Clause 4. In practising social responsibility, organizations should respect and address these principles, along with the principles specific to each core subject (Clause 6).

      Before analysing the core subjects and issues of social responsibility, as well as each of the related actions and expecta-tions (Clause 6), an organization should consider two fundamental practices of social responsibility: recognizing its social responsibility within its sphere of influence, and identifying and engaging with its stakeholders (Clause 5).

      Once the principles have been understood, and the core subjects and relevant and significant issues of social responsibility have been identified, an organization should seek to integrate social responsibility throughout its decisions and activities, using the guidance provided in Clause 7. This involves practices such as: making social responsibility integral to its policies, organizational culture, strategies and operations; building internal competency for social responsibility; undertaking internal and external communication on social responsibility; and regularly reviewing these actions and practices related to social responsibility.

      Further guidance on the core subjects and integration practices of social responsibility is available from authoritative sources (Bibliography) and from various voluntary initiatives and tools (some global examples of which are presented in Annex A).

      When approaching and practising social responsibility, the overarching goal for an organization is to maximize its contribu-tion to sustainable development.