ISO 26000 – A catalyst or a barrier?

ISO 26000 – A catalyst or a barrier?

Sustainability Corner with Irene Evadine Ngong BONJEH , Ebenezer ASUMANG& Romein VAN STADEN

“By changing nothing, nothing changes.”

——Tony Robbins, American author

There has probably never been immense pressure on businesses as a whole to look to the future. However, companies big and small now understand that if they don’t act socially responsible, they will lose out to their competitors, ruin their reputation, and lose loyal or potential customers. And this is where the ISO 26000 standard comes in. It might be far-fetched, but the ISO 26000 standard envisages how businesses can holistically integrate social responsibility into their organization. Allowing for returns at every level, i.e., business, operational, and social.

ISO 26000 provides a pragmatic approach and guidelines to organizations, institutions, and non-governmental organizations with ambitions to contribute to sustainable development. 

Under the skin of ISO 26000 standard

ISO 26000 is an international standard that guides Social Responsibility and ways to integrate socially responsible behaviour into the operations of a business. It’s a global standard for social responsibility which addresses the full range of social and environmental subjects to promote sustainable development. ISO 26000 standard is indeed intended to be used by businesses of all types and sizes. Although not all parts of the ISO 26000 standard are of equal use for all companies, all the core subjects are relevant to every business. The core subjects are organizational governance, human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development.

Each business is responsible for identifying relevant and significant issues to its operations overall. Adherence to the principles of social responsibility is becoming increasingly important and complex to sell products and services in most countries worldwide. Environmental and social matters have far-reaching implications, short timelines for implementation, and hefty penalties for non-compliance. Further complicating the situation is that many countries or regions have specific regulations applicable to their environment and context.

The framework established by ISO 26000 gives businesses a holistic view of all aspects of social responsibility and steps it needs to consider. The guidance provided by ISO 26000 helps companies improve their reputation, brand, and consequently improve the ability to attract and retain workers, customers, and clients as well as have a constructive relationship with stakeholders. It also helps maintain employee morale, commitment, and productivity.

The ISO 26000 framework jumps out of the blocks by probing questions and challenging businesses in terms of the underlying principles of social responsibility, i.e., accountability, transparency, ethical behaviour, respect for stakeholders’ interests, respect for the rule of law, and international norms of conduct, and respect for human rights.

What ISO 26000 is not

Contrary to common belief, the ISO 26000 standard is not a rich country standard but a broad guidance standard to all countries. Hence, ISO 26000 provides only guidance. It should be categorically stated that ISO 26000 is not a management system standard. Without a doubt, this standard is not intended for third-party certification. Unlike ISO 9001 and ISO 14000, where third-party certification plays a considerable role. The idea is to create a framework to improve corporate social responsibility within the organization. The overall objective is not to put a seal on the product or service stating that your business is socially responsible. Crucially, to create a sense of social responsibility within the business and promote voluntary initiatives. And not just activities that promote profit but those that promote wellness and development of the community.

ISO 26000 in an African perspective

Imagine an Africa where we had standards that supported African Traditional medicine. Imagine how this will completely change how we use African medicine to create new opportunities and innovation. This is a story for another day but food for thought. This gives an idea of why standards are needed and their benefits with a focus on the continent.

Yes, we all on the continent can use the ISO 26000, and yes, again, it has a tremendous impact on revenue and return on investment. If you or your business wants to be in the future, this must be taken into consideration. If you are a short-term planner, please move to the next page as this is not for you. ISO 26000 Social Responsibility is for every form of business, government, not-for-profit organizations, etc. The standard leaves no one behind. It enables all to have one definition and voice of CSR and how it can be implemented to increase revenue and reduce cost. It guides those who recognize that respect for society and the environment is a critical success factor. As well as being the “right thing” to do, the application of ISO 26000 is increasingly viewed as a way of assessing an organization’s commitment to sustainability and its overall performance. I know you are reading fast to know the benefits of implementing ISO 26000 standards. Here you have it. Competitive advantage, reputation, ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients, or users. The ability to maintain employee morale, commitment, and productivity. Attract investors, owners, donors, sponsors, and the financial community and create lasting relationships with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers, and the community in which it operates. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and the work is in what lies under the water. Stressing on the importance of internal standards is an understatement. In economic values, it increases sales, opens opportunities to international markets. This standard, in addition, supports your organization builds communities around where they are based. Just a point of caution the ISO 26000 is a trade catalyst and not a barrier.

Implementation is the name of the game

So, what would your practical next steps be to ensure that ISO 26000 does not become an elusive slogan or buzzword? This standard gives to all the tools to apply corporate social responsibility in your business. The critical question is, how can implement ISO 26000 place your business in a competitive position strategically within the market. How can your business work with each of the core subjects of ISO 26000 to improve performance and social responsibility? That will, in turn, lead to profits.

One of the initial steps your organization can take is to use the seven main principles to quickly analyze your performance with each of the seven core subjects. For example, what is your organization’s role in society, and what impacts, especially negative impacts, do your activities have? What value do you create for sustainable development? These introspective reflections might spur your business into action.

It may be that ISO 26000 becomes a certifiable standard in the future; who knows? But we would have to wait and see if that ever happens.



ISO 26000:2010, Guidance on social responsibilities.

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