ISO 26000

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ISO 26000:2010 Guidance on social responsibility is an international standard providing guidelines for social responsibility (SR, often CSR - corporate social responsibility). It was released by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) on 1 November 2010 and its goal is to contribute to global sustainable development by encouraging business and other organizations to practice social responsibility to improve their impacts on their workers, their natural environments and their communities.

An organization's relationship with the society and the environment in which it operates is a critical factor in its ability to continue operating effectively. This standard is used as a measure for an organization's performance as it provides guidance on how it should operate in a socially responsible way.


The structure of ISO 26000 is as follows:

  1. Scope
  2. Terms and definitions
  3. Understanding social responsibility
  4. Principles of social responsibility
  5. Recognizing social responsibility and engaging stakeholders
  6. Guidance on social responsibility core subjects
  7. Guidance on integrating social responsibility throughout an organization.


This standard was developed by ISO/TMBG Technical Management Board - groups. ISO chose the Swedish Standards Institute (SIS) and the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards (ABNT) to provide the joint leadership of the ISO Working Group on Social Responsibility (WG SR). The WG SR was given the task of drafting an International Standard for social responsibility that was published in 2010 as ISO 26000. The 2010 version was reviewed and confirmed by ISO in 2021 and remains current.

Voluntary Guidance Standard for All Organizations

ISO 26000 offers guidance on socially responsible behavior and possible actions. There are three ways in which it is different from the more widespread standards designed for companies to use to meet particular requirements for activities such as manufacturing, managing, accounting and reporting:

  1. ISO 26000 is a voluntary guidance standard: it does not contain requirements such as those used when a standard is offered for "certification". There is a certain learning curve associated with using ISO 26000, because there is no specific external reward - certification - explicitly tied to ISO 26000. ISO recommends that users say, for example, that they have "used ISO 26000 as a guide to integrate social responsibility into our values and practices".
  2. ISO 26000 is designed for use by all organizations, not only businesses and corporations. Organizations such as hospitals and schools, charities (not-for-profits), etc. are also included. ISO 26000 makes particular efforts to show that its flexibility means that it can be applied by small businesses and other groups as well So far, many of the earliest users of ISO 26000 have been multi-national corporations, especially those based in Europe, and East Asia, particularly Japan.
  3. ISO 26000 was developed through a multi-stakeholder process, meeting in eight Working Group Plenary Sessions between 2005 and 2010, with additional committee meetings and consultations on e-mail throughout the five-year process. Approximately five hundred delegates participated in this process, drawn from six stakeholder groups: Industry, Government, NGO (non-governmental organization), Labour, Consumer, and SSRO (Service, Support, Research and Others - primarily academics and consultants). Leadership of various task groups and committees was "twinned" between "developing" and "developed" countries, to ensure viewpoints from different economic and cultural contexts. Since ISO operates on a parliamentary procedure form based on consensus, the final agreed-on standard was the result of deliberation and negotiations; no one group was able to block it, but also no one group was able to achieve its objectives when others strongly disagreed. The goal was to make ISO 26000 accessible and usable by all organizations, in different countries, precisely because it reflects the goals and concerns of each and all of the stakeholder groups in its final compromise form.

Key Principles and Core Subjects of ISO 26000

The Seven Key Principles, advocated as the roots of socially responsible behavior, are:

The Seven Core Subjects, which every user of ISO 26000 should consider, are:

Many of the 84 pages of the standard are devoted to definitions, examples, and suggestions on how to identify and communicate with stakeholders, and how to identify and address specific issues in each Core Subject area.

To Obtain a Copy of ISO 26000

ISO 26000 is available for sale by National Standards Bodies in many countries. Prices are set by the different National Standards Bodies, and vary widely. ISO 26000 is available in many national and international languages, including Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kazakh, Korean, Montenegrin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Vietnamese. ISO 26000 is copyrighted by ISO. See the ISO webpage at for more information.

User Guides to ISO 26000

There is a growing number of user guides, many of which are significantly less expensive than the standard itself. Quality and applicability of these guides will vary widely. An assessment tool has been worked out e.g. by The Royal Norwegian Society for Development (Norges Vel), supported by the Asociatia Pentru Implementarea Democratiei (AID -Romania). The ISO's International Workshop Agreement IWA 26:2017 provides guidance on "using ISO 26000:2010 in management systems".

Additional information and critiques

The ISO 26000 Scope states "This International Standard is not a management system standard. It is not intended or appropriate for certification purposes or regulatory or contractual use. Any offer to certify, or claims to be certified, to ISO 26000 would be a misrepresentation of the intent and purpose and a misuse of this International Standard. As this International Standard does not contain requirements, any such certification would not be a demonstration of conformity with this International Standard." This statement includes that ISO 26000 cannot be used as basis for audits, conformity tests and certificates, or for any other kind of compliance statements. It can however be used as a statement of intention by the CEO and this is seen as its main value.

The practical value of ISO 26000 has been debated. It might be limited if it merely provided a common understanding of social responsibility instead of also facilitating management routines and practices leading to social responsibility. Despite the non-certifiability, some scholars see distinct elements of a management system standard also in ISO 26000. Against this background, the potential benefits of the new standard, the managerial relevance, and specific limitations of ISO 26000 are currently being discussed. Critiques include the lack of any certification, the potential to "decouple" and isolate corporate social responsibility issues in an organization (Schwarz & Tilling 2009), the difficulty for smaller organizations to access the 100-plus-page "textbook" form of the standard, and the fact that the best practices represented by the standard tend to age; to address at least this last concern, interested parties are tracking the need and timing of a possible update. There is also a concern that ISO 26000 is just one among "too many" social impact reporting standards available to corporations.

As a guidance document the ISO 26000 is an offer, voluntary in use, and encourages organizations to discuss their social responsibility issues and possible actions with relevant stakeholders. As service providers, certification bodies do not belong to an organization's stakeholders. ISO 26000 encourages its users to reconsider an organization's social responsibility or "socially responsible behaviour" and to identify/select from its recommendations those where the organization could/should engage in contributions to society. ISO 26000 encourages its users to report to their stakeholders, and get feedback, on actions taken to improve their social responsibility.

It is this identification of "stakeholders" that makes the ISO 26000 an important step forward in solving the dilemma presented by corporations still in pursuit of single bottom line accountability, moving the discussion beyond Triple Bottom Line Accountability. It is also an important step in the development of business-led social responsibility initiatives which evidence suggests is much more effective than government-regulated social responsibly policies.

Target: wide range

A Memorandum of Understanding was developed between the ISO Group and the United Nations Global Compact in order to both develop and promote the ISO 26000 as the go to Standard for CSR. Unfortunately the United Nations Global Compact did not fulfill its commitment under that MOU nor subsequent commitments to bring the ISO 26000 to the other 90 UN agencies.

See also


  1. ^ "ISO - International Organization for Standardization".
  2. ^ a b "ISO 26000:2010 - Guidance on social responsibility". 15 October 2021.
  3. ^ Hahn, R. (2012): "Transnational Governance, Deliberative Democracy, and the Legitimacy of ISO 26000". In: Business and Society doi:10.1177/0007650312462666
  4. ^ ISO26000:2010 Box 3, "ISO 26000 and small and medium-sized organizations (SMOs)"
  5. ^
  6. ^ ISO, IWA 26:2017 -, published August 2017, accessed 18 August 2020
  7. ^ ISO 26000:2010 Clause 1, p. 1
  8. ^ E.g., Hahn, R. (2012): "Standardizing Social Responsibility? New Perspectives on Guidance Documents and Management System Standards for Sustainable Development". In: IEEE - Transactions on Engineering Management doi:10.1109/TEM.2012.2183639
  9. ^ For a largely positive assessment see e.g., Hahn, R. (2012): "Standardizing Social Responsibility? New Perspectives on Guidance Documents and Management System Standards for Sustainable Development". In: IEEE - Transactions on Engineering Management doi:10.1109/TEM.2012.2183639. A largely pessimistic view can be found in, for example, Schwarz, B. & Tilling, K. (2009): "‘ISO-lating’ Corporate Social Responsibility in the Organizational Context: A Dissenting Interpretation of ISO 26000". In: Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management doi:10.1002/csr.211
  10. ^ Henriques, Adrian (2012-01-05). "What are standards for? The case of ISO 26000". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  11. ^ Guertler, Guido (July 2013). "Is ISO 26000 Ready for Revision?". Is ISO 26000 Ready for Revision?. Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  12. ^ Brett, David (2015-02-17). "Is the state of the current social impact measurement infrastructure a cause for concern?". Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  13. ^ Armstrong and, J. Scott; Green, Kesten C. (1 December 2012). "Effects of corporate social responsibility and irresponsibility policies" (PDF). Journal of Business Research. Retrieved 28 October 2014.

Further reading