ISO 26000 and the Definition of Social Responsibility

If you’re interested in learning more about ISO 26000, please consider attending the ASQ Social Responsibility Conference June 16–17, 2011, in San Francisco. ASQ provided this snippet from their recently released white paper of the same name. The conference will provide insight into the application of the new SR standard, ISO 26000: Guidance on Social Responsibility, among other insights.

While the importance of corporate social responsibility is generally accepted, there are as many definitions of social responsibility as there are organizations. This may explain why, in a recent ASQ survey, 40 percent of respondents noted that they are only “somewhat familiar” or “not really familiar” with the concept of social responsibility.

The new standard ISO 26000: Guidance on social responsibility offers a definition of what it means to be a socially responsible organization and why it is important that companies adopt this position.

To bring focus to and offer a general roadmap for social responsibility, experts from more than 75 countries came together to develop ISO 26000: Guidance on Social Responsibility, released November 2010.

The standard provides a common vernacular and outlines key areas of impact. ASQ assumed a major leadership role in the endeavor by serving as the U.S. Technical Advisory Group administrator. In ISO 26000, social responsibility is described as a multi-faceted approach that, like quality, should be integrated into all aspects of how a company conducts its business:

According to ISO 26000, social responsibility is not merely a “neutralizing” action applied at the end of production/distribution to fix what has been generated or displaced. Rather, it is a proactive mind-set that should be incorporated across all levels of planning, execution, and stakeholder interaction.

ISO 26000 acknowledges that applying a lens of social responsibility can be complex. Competing priorities, cultural differences, and other unique variables can create a muddied picture concerning “right” action. The standards make it clear, however, that “a situation’s complexity should not be used as an excuse for inaction,” and that companies should proceed in good faith, applying the seven principles of socially responsible behavior as outlined in the standard: accountability, transparency, ethical behavior, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for the rule of law, respect for international norms of behavior, and respect for human rights.

Accountability
An organization is answerable to those affected by its decisions and activities, as well as to society in general, for the overall impact on society and its decisions and activities.

Transparency
An organization should disclose, in a clear, accurate manner and to a reasonable and sufficient degree, the policies, decisions, and activities for which it is responsible, including known and likely impacts.

Ethical behavior
An organization’s behavior should be based on the ethics of honesty, equity, and integrity.

Respect for Stakeholder Interests
In addition to owners, members, and customers or constituents, other individuals or groups may also have rights, claims, or specific interests that should be taken into account.

Respect for the Rule of Law
An organization is to comply with all applicable laws and regulations. It informs those within the organization of their obligation to observe and to implement measures.

Respect for International Norms of Behavior
An organization respects international norms of behavior while adhering to the principle of respect for the rule of law. An organization should not stay silent in response to or benefit from wrongful acts.

Respect for Human Rights
An organization respects and fosters rights set out in the International Bill of Human Rights. This includes situations where human rights are not protected.
ISO 26000 then applies those principles to seven “core subjects” that describe socially responsible areas of activity or focus.

For more information about applying these standards, check out the ISO page and consider attending the ASQ Social Responsibility conference, where the standard will be discussed in detail.

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