ISO 26000

ISO 26000 will be a standard for social responsibility produced by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). In the last few weeks a vote was taken by the national standards bodies that compose ISO?s membership. It was closely fought - but despite controversies and pressures, the outcome was that the draft standard should proceed to the last stage before becoming an official ISO standard probably later in 2010.

The standard will directly address human rights amongst other issues, including corruption, fair competition and consumer concerns. Historically ISO has mainly produced standards on far more technical and mundane matters, such as quality control (ISO 9000). By facilitating those areas in which there is little competition and more to be gained by so-operation, ISO standards have achieved widespread use and considerable respect from industry. Social responsibility was therefore a departure for ISO when first suggested in 2002.

Since then it has been developed with the help of a very large working group, drawn from about 80 countries including many in the South. A number of international organisations such as Consumers International and the International Organisation of Employers are also members of the working group in their own right. I have been involved, representing NGOs, since 2003.

Overall, membership of the working group is deliberately structured to give voice to representatives from industry, labour, NGOs, consumer groups, and government. To ensure the consistency of ISO 26000 with other conventions and guidelines, ISO has also entered special agreements with the ILO, the Global Compact and the OECD.

A few words on what it is not: the standard is not intended for companies alone, but for all types of organisations. From a human rights perspective one important implication is that this means it is designed to be applicable to governments - although the standard is not intended to ??alter or in any way change the obligations of the state?. It is also not a standard against which a company might be certified. It is intended for guidance only.