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ISO’s new standard for corporate social responsibility

08 December 2010

On November 1 2010 the International Standards Organisation launched ISO 26000, a new standard that provides guidance to both business and public sector organisations on their corporate social responsibilities (CSR). ISO 26000 is a voluntary guidance standard that is not intended to be used for certification, unlike ISO 9001:2008 (quality management) and ISO 14001:2004 (environmental management) with which many companies now comply in order to demonstrate their environmental credentials and ability to meet the service or product quality levels demanded by customers.

ISO 26000 has been eagerly awaited by business and public sector organisations worldwide, according to ISO secretary-general Rob Steele, who reported that it had received great interest and support during its formulation. “Operating in a socially responsible manner is no longer an option; it is becoming a requirement of society worldwide,” he said at the launch. “What makes ISO 26000 exceptional among the many already existing social responsibility initiatives is that it distils a truly international consensus on what social responsibility means and what core subjects need to be addressed to implement it.”

According to the new standard, the perception and reality of an organisation's performance on social responsibility can have significant influence on an organisation’s competitive advantage, reputation and ability to attract and retain workers, members, clients and customers. Employee morale, commitment and productivity, not to mention investor and media perceptions, will also be influenced by an organisation’s attitudes to social responsibility.

ISO 26000 is the work of the ISO Working Group on Social Responsibility (ISO/WG SR) whose membership was the largest and the most broadly based in terms of stakeholder representation of any single group formed to develop an ISO standard. It has been some six years in the making. Six main stakeholder groups were engaged: industry; government; labour; consumers: nongovernmental organisations; and service, support, research and others, as well as a geographical and gender-based balance of participants. At the last meeting of the ISO/WG SR, in July 2010, there were 450 participating experts and 210 observers from 99 ISO member countries and 42 liaison organisations involved in the work.

Commenting on the new standard, CSR and sustainability recruitment consultant Allen & York says the importance of documenting and managing CSR practices becomes eminently clear when we consider the tragedy surrounding the 2010 explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. BP is the latest example of how social responsibility is of critical importance to an enterprise from not only the standpoint of public perception, but for protecting the interests of investors and other stakeholders.

ISO 26000 is unusual in that it is a form of guidance and not a certification standard. That, according to Allen & York, may be part of its weakness. Sceptics might think that ISO 26000 will not suddenly replace all CSR initiatives in an organisation’s supply chain, but it does attempt to harmonise UN Global Compact guidelines for ethical business practices and a number of existing practices, principles and guidelines devoted to social responsibility such as the Global Reporting Initiative. Allen & York believes that by adopting the ISO 26000 approach and operating in a socially responsible manner, companies can demonstrate to their stakeholders and their consumers their commitment to making real differences in their business practices, thus increasing their competitiveness and building their reputation.

Dominique Gangneux, a partner at environmental, health and safety, risk, and social consulting services provider ERM, says ISO 26000 brings three key benefits to the field of sustainability. It confirms the meaning of many concepts and terms; it establishes bridges between the multitudes of existing standards; and it will raise awareness of many more organisations around the world on the meaning and value of good sustainability performance.

We should also not exclude the possibility that ISO 26000 may evolve into a certification standard over time. As such, it is crucial for companies to be mindful of CSR concerns in doing business. For companies looking to adopt ISO 26000, it really will require what CSR practitioners and consultants have been wanting all along, embedding CSR into the organisation and making it part of its core business strategy, rather than an add on.

Moving on from what some might view as the loftier aspirations of the ISO, readers are advised that changes will soon be made to some of the most fundamental and familiar standards relating to machine safety. Safety and compliance consultant, Laidler Associates says interested parties might like to start making preparations now in order to accommodate the changes.

The standards affected are EN ISO 12100-1:2003, Safety of machinery - Basic concepts, general principles for design - Basic terminology, methodology; EN ISO 12100-2:2003, Safety of machinery - Basic concepts, general principles for design - Part 2: Technical principles; and EN ISO 14121-1:2007, safety of machinery - Risk assessment - Part 1: Principles. These standards are being superseded and replaced by a new standard, which is designated ISO 12100:2010, Safety of machinery - General principles for design - Risk assessment and risk reduction. This is the latest standard to be updated and changes to other standards will follow. All of the standards involved, both old and new, are ‘Type A’ standards and, as such, underpin the design of all machines that are intended to be supplied and used in Europe.

The essence of the change is that the requirements of the three existing standards are being consolidated into one new standard, with no changes to the requirements themselves. It has also been made clear that documentation for machines already in use, which refers to the existing standards, will not need to be revised. However, documentation for all machines supplied after the change has taken place must refer to the latest standard, as Laidler Associates’ Paul Laidler explains:

“Since the requirements themselves are not changing, it might seem that machine builders and OEMs don’t need to concern themselves about the introduction of ISO EN 12100:2010, but that’s not quite true. Though the requirements won’t change, the numbering relating to them certainly will do so, which means that any documentation that refers to individual requirements will have to be revised accordingly, if it is to be supplied with new machines. This will particularly affect companies with machines in series production, and companies that are currently designing machines that will not be supplied until after the new standard comes into force. We would strongly suggest that these companies take note of the impending changes now and prepare for them, rather than waiting till the last minute.”

While no date has yet been announced for the publication of ISO EN 12100:2010 in the UK, the process is well underway. The ISO version of the new standard has been harmonised and it has been published in its ISO and EN forms. It is understood that BSI is currently in the final stages of working on the UK version and that publication is therefore imminent.

Les Hunt

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