What is ISO 26000, and who is it for?

For many successful businesspeople – and perhaps for you – being socially responsible is a part of who they are and why they are in business: to provide useful products and services, to

provide jobs and development opportunities for their communities, and to gain satisfaction through meaningful work. In many countries, these “socially responsible entrepreneurs” have been quietly making a difference by acting on their values and principles, and inspiring others. They have the spirit of social responsibility already.

However, in many sectors and many parts of the world, people and businesses still lack the spirit or understanding of being responsible. They may lack the knowledge or incentive to realize that their actions are important for the well-being of other people and the environment. ISO 26000 is a response to the urgent need for all people, from all parts of the world, to have a positive impact on those around them, through the way they do business and live their lives.

ISO 26000 provides broad guidance, but does not offer specific instructions or require specific outcomes. Businesses that implement ISO 26000 have opportunities to identify and act on

their own priorities, and to build stronger business models in the spirit of “continuous improvement.” Implementers of ISO 26000 will develop their unique corporate social responsibility programs and become models for others.

ISO 26000 was created by a diverse group of experts, representing many different countries, stakeholder groups1, and points of view. Work began in 2005 and was completed in 2010. Creation of the standard was organized by the International Standardization Organization, ISO, based in Geneva Switzerland. Since 1947 ISO has developed over 17,000 standards to encourage world trade and quality production. Previous well-known ISO standards include ISO 9000 (quality control) and ISO 14000 (environmental management systems). Unlike ISO 9000 and 14000, however, ISO 26000 is a voluntary guidance standard and is not intended for certification.


What opportunities does ISO 26000 provide for its implementers?


By adopting ISO 26000 into your core business model, you can

  • identify paths to innovation
  • reduce long-term risks
  • increase your competitiveness
  • You may identify new products, services or manufacturing processes;
  • You may generate more effective promotion and marketing plans, focusing on the value-added social responsibility components of your business;
  • By reporting on your current situation in each of the core subject areas, you can earn trust and establish yourself as a business which is committed to social responsibility.


How does ISO 26000 encourage sustainable development?

Sustainable development is growth and change that maintains

and improves the natural environment, human resources, and society upon which we depend. Businesses that identify, maintain, and improve their natural and human resources are highly competitive. They are more able to cope with challenges in the marketplace. They can anticipate and reduce threats caused by environmental changes or natural disasters, and can better adapt to significant social changes. No business

can predict the future perfectly; but smart businesses can plan for a future in which significant social and environmental changes occur. Businesses that contribute to a more sustainable society are more likely to be valued and supported by consumers, supply chains, and policy makers. ISO 26000 provides information and decision-making tools for businesses to identify ways they can improve their impacts on the people and places they work and live in, and thereby become more valuable and valued members of society.

  • The Working Group on Social Responsibility (WGSR) that created ISO 26000 included six stakeholder groups: industry, government, labor, NGO, consumer, and SSRO (service, support, research and others).

Key Elements of ISO 26000:

Stakeholders, Core Subjects and Reporting

  • Stakeholders are those people and groups that are affected by the actions of your business. These can include workers, suppliers, community residents, consumers, and investors. Communicating with them is one of the best ways a business can find out where it is doing a good job, and where it could improve.


  • Core Subjects


ISO 26000 identifies seven core subjects that socially responsible businesses should address. Implementers of ISO 26000 should evaluate their actions in each of the core subjects, to identify what they are doing in their current practices, and to set priorities for improvements.


  • Organizational governance – practicing accountability and transparency at all levels of your organization; using leadership to create an organizational culture which uses core values of social responsibility when making business decisions
  • Human rights – treating all individuals with respect; making special efforts to help people from vulnerable groups
  • Labor practices – providing just, safe and healthy conditions for workers; engaging in two-way discussions to address workers’ concerns
  • Environment– identifying and improving environmental impacts of your operations, including resource use and waste disposal
  • Fair operating practices – respecting the law; practicing accountability and fairness in your dealings with other businesses, including your suppliers
  • Consumer issues – providing healthy and safe products, giving accurate information, and promoting sustainable consumption
  • Community involvement and development – getting involved in the betterment of the local communities that your organization operates in; being a good neighbor

3) Reporting


This is a valuable tool for engaging stakeholders and for promoting your achievements. Implementers of ISO 26000 should report on activities and decisions in as many of the seven core subjects as they can. If they do not address a core subject, they need to: (1) explain why they omitted it, and (2) include it in a plan for consideration in the future.

Third-party involvement or “attestations” can strengthen your reports and make your social responsibility claims more credible to reviewers and to the public.

While ISO 26000 is not designed for certification, it provides a framework for implementers to use various third party verification mechanisms, including formal certification to other standards, to enhance the credibility of particular claims made within the ISO 26000 reporting framework. For example, quality claims could be backed up by ISO 9000 certification; food safety claims by regional or national organic certification.


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A note about the terms “CSR” and “SR”:


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the traditional way to refer to the role of a business in contributing positively to the larger community in which it operates. ISO 26000 uses the term “Social Responsibility” (SR) to refer to this concept, to show that its guidance can be used by all kinds of organizations.


This manual should be completed by your business’s management team, working as a group. It will not be effective if it is filled out by one individual, because the success of ISO 26000 depends on team efforts.

There are five stages in the process:

  • Your current picture
  • Evaluation for the seven core subject
  • Engaging your stakeholders
  • Plans for improvement
  • Public reporting

This manual should be completed by your business’s management team, working as a group. It will not be effective if it is filled out by one individual.

  1. Your Current Picture

First, describe your business.

  1. What does it do, what does it produce and sell, who does it employ, and where is it located?
  2. Who are your key business partners – suppliers, customers, etc?

 Second, explore what social responsibility means to you.

  1.  What does a “good company” look like in your eyes?
  2. What should it pursue in addition to generating profit? What are its principles and actions?
  3. Does your business strive to meet that ideal? If yes, how do you do that specifically?

If not, what obstacles prevent you from pursuing that ideal?

Note: This may include both obvious and not-so obvious efforts. For example, you may have an environmental management office, or assign environmental management tasks to an employee. This is an obvious effort. For an example of a not-so obvious effort, you may consistently promote employment of minorities or vulnerable populations, and tolerance in the workplace for them by all employees, but you may not have a human rights office or a single individual responsible for this principle.

Your Ideal and ISO 26000: What’s the Connection?

Your answers on this page may indicate that your business already practices social responsibility, perhaps without ever giving it this name. In fact, CSR in practice often grows out of human instincts to be fair and helpful to neighbors. ISO 26000 provides a framework for you to take the next steps: to think more deeply and to act more thoroughly. ISO 26000 will help you to organize your CSR efforts systematically, evaluate your progress and effectively tell others about your achievements. Therefore, ISO 26000 is supportive of and complementary to your efforts to become a “good business” in the world.

  1. Evaluation for Each of the Seven Core Subjects

In this section, you will evaluate your situation for each of the ISO 26000 seven core subjects. Again, for some core subjects, you will identify what you are already doing. For the other core subjects, you can examine suggestions for future actions.

Take the time to learn more about the seven core subjects;



1)Fill in Table 1, “Importance of Core Subjects for Our Business.”


How important is each of the seven core subjects to your business and its social responsibility? Check the core subject areas in which you are already taking actions.


Table 1 “Importance of Core Subjects for Our Business”

Core Subject Important Not very Already in
important Action
Organizational governance
Practicing accountability and transparency at all levels;
leadership promotes responsibility
Human rights
Treating all individuals with respect; making efforts to help
members of vulnerable groups
Labor practices
Providing just, safe and favorable conditions to workers
Identifying and improving environmental impacts of your
operations, including resource use and waste disposal
Fair operating practices
Respecting the law; treating all partners fairly, including
your suppliers
Consumer issues
Providing healthy and safe products; giving accurate
information on their use
Community involvement and development
Being involved as a good neighbor in your local community

Filling out Table 1 should have helped your entire management team to be more comfortable with the importance of the seven core subjects for your business. If you have not achieved a consensus on these topics, take time to discuss this further, before moving on to Table 2.


  • Next, in Table 2, write what you are already doing for each of the ISO 26000 core subjects.


Table 2   “CSR Programs and Activities Already Established in Our Business”

Core Subject CSR programs and activities already established
IMPORTANT: These can be obvious or not-so obvious



2.Human rights

3.Labor practices


4.Fair operating practices

5.Consumer issues

6.Community involvement

and development

  • With your management team, read “ISO 26000 – The Seven Core Subjects for Social

Responsibility”. Pay particular attention to the action suggestions listed under each subject.


  • Circle action suggestions that you are already doing. ISO 26000 has now helped you to identify socially responsible actions that you should take credit for. Check to be sure that you have listed these in Table 2 on page 11, and add in to Table 2 any actions that you had missed.
  • Identify and highlight suggestions that you do not practice at this time, but might want to include in plans for the future. Be realistic about what you can accomplish with your resources.
  • Leave unmarked, or cross out, any action suggestions which do not apply to you or which you feel you cannot implement.
  • Begin outlining your internal confidential working documents about your CSR actions.


Your first step is to conduct a “gap analysis”. Use the information in Table 1, “Importance of Core Subjects for Our Business,” and Table 2, “CSR Programs and Activities Already Established in Our Business”.


  • Identify core subject areas where you can address missed opportunities to improve your business model
  • Identify core subject areas where you are exposed to risks that have not been properly planned for.
  • Refer back to Table 1 (page 10). Using your gap analysis, identify and highlight any core subjects where you have noticed room for improvement.

A gap analysis focuses on the “gap”, or distance, between what you are presently doing and what you want or need to do.

After you have identified places where you have these gaps, you can decide how and when to address them.

This process may also help you to anticipate how your stakeholders and the public will engage with you. That is why this internal assessment step comes before the following sections, on stakeholder engagement, plans for improvement, and public reporting.

  1. Engaging Your Stakeholders


“Engaging your stakeholders” – having two-way discussions with them about how you and they can best work together – helps you to understand how others see you, and is a logical next step after your internal evaluation.

Stakeholders are people or groups who are affected by the actions of your business. Often they also have the ability to affect you. This is why ISO 26000 emphasizes stakeholder involvement.

You may find that stakeholder engagement is new, challenging, even intimidating. However, stakeholder engagement can bring great rewards to your business. To catch a glimpse of such rewards, see “Real Life Examples” on the next page.

To benefit fully from this process, you should proceed with this phase of ISO 26000 in a manner that is comfortable for your management team.

  • Do not attempt to engage all stakeholders on all issues at the beginning
  • Prioritize core subjects and related stakeholders
  • Focus on areas where you and your stakeholders can most realistically move forward together within the limits of your and their resources.

Real Life Examples

How Stakeholder Engagement Can Help Your Business


The following are real life examples from ECOLOGIA’s work over the years. These examples show specific ways that stakeholder input helped business management to build value for their companies, and to avoid troubling situations and bad publicity.


  • In Russia, a quality management team reduced defective product rejections, and thereby reduced manufacturing inputs and waste disposal costs significantly, after consulting with factory workers.
  • In the United States, workers informed owners about needlessly unsafe working conditions that managers had been tolerating, and which could have resulted in serious and costly injuries; the owners fixed the problems.
  • In Europe, customers had good ideas for new or substitute manufacturing inputs or processes that could reduce costs and increase the value of the products, but before their


“stakeholder engagement”, the customers had no way to get their ideas to the business managers.


  • In the United States, community members, other businesses, and officials got together to find ways to partner to reduce transport costs.
  • In Russia, community residents were worried about water pollution from a local business. The business executives had not really known how concerned the residents were, until meeting with them. Once they started talking directly with the business executives, the community residents said they wanted to work together with the business, and with local officials, to reduce the pollution. They wanted to ensure that the business stayed economically healthy, providing jobs. The residents did not want the business to spend money on fines that wouldn’t solve the problems.
  • First, identify your business’s stakeholders – the people or groups who are affected by the actions of your business. Write their names in the appropriate boxes of Table 3. You and your management team should discuss what core subject(s) each group of your stakeholders is most involved with, in their relationships with your business. For each group you identify, determine whether you know of any unmet needs they have that you might be able to meet.

Start with one or two topics and stakeholder groups, find a comfortable meeting place for an informal discussion, and get feedback on your current situation. The goal here is to establish trust and start a dialogue. Engage your stakeholders to work with you to build consensus around your successful corporate social responsibility efforts, and to suggest ways to improve. Explain your viewpoints, and listen to theirs.

  • During your meetings with stakeholders, and in your internal discussion afterwards, use the information you obtain to
  • identify opportunities for new products, customers, programs and/or community involvement, and
  • identify areas where you may be vulnerable (at risk) due to stakeholder dissatisfaction, or to the impact of accidents, natural disasters or other problems on your business.

By engaging a larger variety of stakeholders, you increase your chances of understanding their needs and thus increasing your competitiveness.

Use stakeholders’ input to re-examine subject areas that you may have ignored or whose importance you may have underestimated in your internal review and gap analysis

  • Begin outlining a plan for improvement .
  • Show that you are a responsive partner, and establish good working relationships:
  • Communicate back to the stakeholders with whom you met; let them know how you have used some of their ideas in your plans for improvement;
  • In your public reporting (see Section 5 on page 21), include an explanation of the role of stakeholder engagement. This is an important part of using ISO 26000 to bring about continuous improvement.

Engaging Your Stakeholders: How to Begin the Process


Engaging stakeholders should be one of the most valuable activities associated with ISO 26000. It may also be one of the most challenging activities if you do not prepare a good plan. These suggestions are intended to make stakeholder involvement productive and collaborative.

1)   Establish rules for a stakeholder engagement meeting

Distribute the rules in written form and review them at the start of the meeting. Make sure that your management team understands the rules before the meeting; they must model collaborative behavior. Suggestions:

  • If you identify a problem, suggest a solution.
  • Listen respectfully.
  • Avoid angry statements.
  • Engage other speakers by confirming where you are in agreement. This is a great way to begin speaking: “I agree that…” After identifying areas of agreement, you can explain if and where you disagree.
  • Try to see the perspective of those with whom you disagree. Show that you understand by restating or confirming what you think the speaker said even if you disagree.
  • Start within your company for the first step

Make your first stakeholder involvement step an internal meeting within your company. Involve a stakeholder group and potential topic of discussion that will allow you, your management team, and the stakeholders to walk into the room expecting that it will be a win-win situation. Avoid a highly controversial topic.

For example, meet with employees to discuss how to reduce waste in production, reduce waste disposal costs, save expenses, and make your company more competitive. This topic should not introduce conflict. When everyone leaves the meeting, all participants should feel that they solved a problem by working together and that the company is stronger. (Be sure to tell stakeholders that their contributions are valuable, if and when they are valuable.)

Engaging Your Stakeholders: How to Begin the Process

3)  Start with the already known

Make your first public stakeholder meeting with community members or customers an announcement of an action that you are prepared to take in response to a concern that you already know they have. In this way, you will signal your willingness to take action.

Make the announcement as a suggestion, not as a final decision. Ask for their feedback and suggestions in making your activity more effective.

Explain that your company wants to be socially responsible in a way that helps customers and the community, and that it is most likely that the company can act in the future when both the public and company benefit. Ask participants to suggest other ways that you can work together. Do not immediately accept or reject any suggestion. Respectfully gather input for future discussions and take time to reflect before a follow-up meeting.

4)  Go to the next stage when you are ready

As your company’s management team becomes comfortable with the stakeholder engagement process, be prepared to address issues that may involve serious differences and conflicting interests. These may involve pollution concerns of the community, labor conditions, or quality or safety concerns of suppliers and customers. Such concerns probably cannot be resolved in one stakeholder meeting. You may need to gather information, and then have your staff research technology and costs associated with solutions. It is often a great and wonderful surprise when you ask those expressing a concern if they can help to identify solutions. Retired workers, community members, academics, and officials often have access to creative ideas that nobody had thought of before. These stakeholders can be very important members of problem solving teams. Involving them as outside members of your problem solving team also builds trust between your business and your stakeholders.

5)  Reflect on and continually evaluate your stakeholder process

At this stage, you may consider letting lower level managers who have a talent for communication take the lead in the process. As a high level manager or founder-owner, you may want to step back and listen. This will also model your openness to new ideas and change within your company.

  1. Plans for Improvement

After you have evaluated your current situation, and engaged your stakeholders in discussion, you will have many ideas about new ways to build on your achievements. Creating plans for action is your next step toward improving your corporate social responsibility.

Step 1: Identify key issues and core subjects for your CSR improvements

When doing this, consider the following three factors:

  • the impacts of the changes you are considering
  • your capability and resources to carry out the changes
  • the visibility of the changes you are considering

CSR improvements can involve making changes in the way you do business, and/or creating new projects or products to meet newly-discovered needs.

Which impacts of your current business activities are most urgent and important for your company to address? Consider the needs of your stakeholders, the potential benefits to your company of addressing these needs, and the potential risks to your company of not addressing these needs.

  • Human resources – identify employees and/or potential partners with expertise to address your specific CSR issues
  • Financial resources – determine sources and amounts of funding to support your efforts. Whatever you plan, make sure that you allocate enough resources to carry it out well. It is better to start small, and be successful, than to be too ambitious for your current resources.
  • Community resources – consider involving partners in your supply chain, industry groups, neighborhood organizations, community infrastructure, etc.

How much visibility will your first CSR efforts receive? People are often inspired to join in once they see something new and interesting underway and have the chance to learn about it. Visible improvements can inspire confidence of stakeholders, gain support from within your own business, and build momentum for future steps. Effective use of visibility will encourage continuous and sustainable improvement of CSR in the long run.

Note: Visibility is different from public relations. Simply labeling some projects as “CSR” and promoting them for advertising purposes is not a true CSR effort, and thus will not achieve the desired outcomes.

Step 2: How to choose your first CSR changes

When choosing your first CSR changes, keep in mind that some changes may have substantial impacts but are beyond your current resources. Other changes may be highly visible to the public yet bring little impact. For your CSR efforts to be sustainable in their impact, funding and support, it is important to consider all three factors of impacts, capability and visibility.

For your first CSR changes, consider choosing one or two issues from the center where the three criteria overlap. In this way, your first efforts will deliver impacts, be within your capability, and achieve sufficient visibility to publicize and gain support.

Step 3: Draw up your action plan

When you draw up your plan of improvement, be sure to

  • identify the core subject(s) you are addressing
  • explain the goals (impacts) you want to achieve with the plan
  • keep the plan realistic
  • allocate enough resources (money, time, people with authority within your organization) to make it work
  • set a deadline for plan completion and evaluation, including reporting back to your stakeholders

This plan will become part of future public reports and stakeholder engagement. Your management team, stakeholders, and attestors can use this to evaluate your commitment to continual progress in implementing principles of corporate social responsibility.

  1. Public Reporting

We recommend that your management team begin the public phase of your ISO 26000 implementation with a report that honestly and accurately describes your current situation. This report itself is an act of social responsibility.

  1. a) Creating Your Report

A primary goal for reporting is to publicly establish your commitment to social responsibility, regardless of existing shortcomings. Keep your report brief, accessible and reader-friendly. Identify the audience(s) for your report – see Table 3 “Stakeholder and Core Subject Worksheet,” page 15.

Your report should:

Public reporting is a way to claim credit for your work on social responsibility. It is also a way to demonstrate your respect for your stakeholders, as you practice accountability through your reporting to them.

  • Identify your CSR achievements in each of the seven core subjects of ISO 26000. If you choose not to report on some of the core subjects at this time, give a brief explanation of why not, and commit to examining this area at a specific time in the future
  • Establish your credibility by identifying problem areas (not avoiding them)
  • Describe how and when stakeholders have been involved in your work on social responsibility
  • Explain plans for improvement in a section such as “the way forward”. In future reports you can discuss your progress


To ensure that your report is credible, we recommend that you involve third parties. This can include informal ‘attestation’ or written comments from different stakeholder groups (including suppliers and customers), reports of audits, and certifications such as Fair Trade, ISO 9001, Green Food, UTZ, etc.

b)  Using Your Report

For Your Public Relations and Communications Staff:

To establish your credibility as a business striving to achieve and improve its social responsibility, you and your management team need to discuss problems, not avoid them.At this point in the implementation process you will have completed a public report. It can be used to engage shareholders, investors, customers, stakeholders and the local community. It is important to publish or distribute the report in an accessible manner (online; print copies for those who lack electronic access, etc.)

The CSR report should be an information-sharing and communication effort to reach out to and improve relations with stakeholders. It should not be viewed as primarily an advertising vehicle. If you have public relations or marketing personnel, be sure that they understand these goals of the CSR report.

The CSR report documents your CSR commitments and improvements over time. Creating the report provides an opportunity to reflect, evaluate and assess your CSR efforts. At the same time, you can make suggestions and changes for the years to come. Your CSR report serves not only for others to understand your business, but also for you to successfully link your current effort with the future. As shown below, public reporting acts as an important step to renew the cycle.

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