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Social Responsibility through ISO 26000

24 March 2022
Organisations around the world, as well as their stakeholders, are becoming increasingly aware of the value of socially responsible behaviour.

How an organisation can demonstrate its commitment to the welfare of society and the environment is becoming become a key measure in its overall performance, which in part, reflects the growing recognition that we need to ensure healthy ecosystems, social equity and good organisational governance. Ultimately, how an organisation is able to perform increasingly depends on the health of the world’s ecosystems.

These days, organisations are subject to greater scrutiny by their various stakeholders and customers alike to ensure that commitments are real and not just a thin veneer or respectability or greenwash.

In order to assist organisations make a real, verifiable commitment to true sustainable development, international standard ISO 26000 was developed with the intention of assisting organisations in contributing to sustainable development. It is intended to encourage them to go way beyond basic legal compliance, recognising that compliance with law is a fundamental duty of any organisation and an essential part of their social responsibility. The standard provides practical guidance related to making social responsibility an integral part operational activities rather than simply a bland commitment.

ISO 26000 outlines seven key principles, which it views as the roots of socially responsible behaviour:

  • Accountability.

  • Transparency.

  • Ethical behaviour.

  • Respect for stakeholder interests.

  • Respect for the rule of law.

  • Respect for international norms of behaviour.

  • Respect for human rights.

The standard itself can be utilised by organisations in the private, public, and non-profit sectors, whether large or small, and whether operating in developed or developing countries. All of the core subjects of social responsibility are relevant in some way to every organisation.

Since the core subjects cover a number of issues, organisations will benefit when they identify which issues are most relevant and significant for them through examination of their own considerations and dialogue with stakeholders.

ISO 26000 aims to:

  • Assist organisations in addressing their social responsibilities while respecting cultural, societal, environmental, and legal differences and economic development conditions

  • Provide practical guidance related to making social responsibility operational

  • Assist with identifying and engaging with stakeholders and enhancing credibility of reports and claims made about social responsibility

  • Emphasize performance results and improvement

  • Increase confidence and satisfaction in organisations among their customers and other stakeholders

  • Achieve consistency with existing documents, international treaties and conventions, and existing ISO standards

  • Promote common terminology in the social responsibility field

  • Broaden awareness of social responsibility.

ISO 26000 and the Sustainable Development Goals

ISO 26000 is increasingly being seen as one of the key ways that organisations can work towards playing their part in contributing to the United Nations 2030 Agenda and its sustainable development goals, covering everything from sustainable communities and quality management to safety and measuring greenhouse

There are 17 sustainable development goals within the UN 2030 agenda as shown below:
ISO 26000 offers practical guidance to any organisation, anywhere in the world, wishing to contribute to sustainable development. It helps them:

  • Understand how they currently impact society and contribute to sustainable development

  • Identify, engage and respect their relevant stakeholder expectations

  • Define which issues are relevant and significant and ensure they are prioritised for action

  • Comply with applicable laws and enable consistency with international norms of behaviour

  • Integrate responsible behaviour throughout their organisation and relationships

Not only does the standard help organisations identify and reduce their most significant impacts on society, the actions recommended align well with international norms such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organisation’s core conventions on labour practices.

The standard offers guidance on how to integrate social responsibility throughout your organisation, but here are a few tips to get you started.

Use the seven main principles to make a quick analysis of your performance in relation to each of the seven core subjects. What is your role in society and what impacts, especially negative impacts, do your activities have? What value do you create for sustainable development?

Create a stakeholder map, i.e. a list of expectations from those stakeholders that affect, or are affected by, your organisation. What is expected from you through rule of law, international norms of behaviour and your own organisation?

Refine your self-analysis through due diligence or developing a gap analysis between your current operations and the detailed guidance found in Clause 6 of the standard.
Are there recommendations that you need to act on immediately?

Define your objectives and targets after stakeholder input. How will you show continual improvement of your socially responsible behaviour over the long and short term?

Integrate social responsibility in all relevant parts of the organisation. How, for example, will you reach relevant parts of top management and the board, line managers and procurement functions?


There are many benefits than can be achieved by following the guidelines set out in ISO 26000:

  • Competitive advantage

  • Reputation

  • The ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients and users

  • The maintenance of employee morale, commitment and productivity

  • The perception of investors, owners, donors, sponsors and the financial community

  • Relationships with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers and the community in which it operates

ISO 26000 is not a management system standard. It does not contain requirements and, as such, cannot be used for certification. Guidance in terms of communicating the use of the standard suggests that the wording:

“We have used ISO 26000 standard to integrate socially responsible behaviour into our organisation”.

As part of our wider sustainability solutions, NQA is able to support your organisation through the increasing myriad of standards and guidance documents that will ultimately help you achieve your sustainability goals; from improved environmental performance to energy efficiency, sustainability and beyond.

To get started on your journey toward a more sustainable, eco-friendly business, contact an NQA representative for assistance. We can help you identify the specific standards most applicable to your business and provide services necessary to achieve certification or verification.