ISO 26000 will become an official standard

ISO 26000 has been approved. Until the vote by national standards bodies, it was not clear whether the standard for social responsibility would become a full standard or some lesser, technical document.

But 93% of ISO members voted it through. The most significant votes against were from the USA and India. And China voted positively.

The new standard is expected to be published in November.


What makes a good voluntary initiative?

Some voluntary initiatives receive lots of attention and become very popular. But how much change do they deliver?

Two examples spring to mind: the Global Compact and ISO 26000. The Global Compact has a number of contentious companies on its books, despite persistent challenges from NGOs (and other parts of the UN system). See this press release on Nestle, for example.

ISO 26000 is soon to start on this path. With the expected release of the standard by the end of the year, how will it be monitored, if there are no firm requirements? What will it mean to say that a company has not lived up to the guidance?

In the end one of the few sanctions available to civil society is to discredit the initiatives concerned – which would be a pity…


Governing through ISO

Why has the ISO 26000 standard provoked such defensive responses from major governments?

The ISO 26000 process is supposed to produce a standard on social responsibility. And following the Copenhagen Working Group meeting, which I attended, it looks like it will succeed. But the path to get there has been fought tooth and nail by governments – particularly those of the USA, Canada, India and China. In Copenhagen a key issue was the precautionary approach and the extent to which cost-effectiveness needs to take into account the long term. 

What is behind this reaction? ISO 26000 is part of a movement spearheaded by civil society to raise social and environmental standards away from the lowest convenient performance. It defines in some detail the aspirations that organisations wishing to be responsible should consider. But from the government perspective, that looks like usurping their role. And in a way, that is right. Even though the standard carefully excludes the policy-making aspects of government from its scope, this emerging standard challenges them to raise their game.

So perhaps the most significant outcome of the ISO 26000 process will be that it held up a mirror to the world’s governments – and they found they are not quite so pretty as they thought.


Will ISO 26000 change the world?

The international standards organisation is producing a standard on social responsibility.

How much difference will this make? As I write on the Institute for Human Rights and Business blog, the interest that major political powers are showing in it is a cause for hope – even if their interventions are not always helpful.


Tiptoeing OECD forwards

The UK government has just released its response to the consultation on the OECD Guidelines. The OECD Guidelines have had a chequered history. Following a consultation exercise, the UK government says its priorites are:

  • Supply chains – to provide practical guidance to multinationals on the application of due diligence in their supply chains, to promote agreed UN and ILO social and labour standards, as well as gender equality (as reflected in the ILO Decent Work agenda), down their supply chain.
  • Human Rights – to provide clearer, practical guidance to assist multinationals in respecting human rights, including gender equality, using a due diligence and risk awareness process.
  • Employment and industrial relations – clarifying the Guidelines to make clear that whilst multinationals should conform to the host country’s law, they should also take into account the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
    Environment – expansion of the existing recommendations specifically to address the issue of climate change.
  • Consumer Interests – expansion of the current consumer chapter to give favourable consideration to additional wording on improving consumers’ education.
  • Functional equivalence – to provide more detailed (non-prescriptive) guidance on: the structure of NCPs; the NCP complaints process; the issue of parallel proceedings; and follow-up to final statements by NCPs (in line with the UK NCP’s practice).

How far will the OECD move? Its website gives little away…


ISO26000 public consultation

The ISO26000 Draft International Standard (DIS) on organisational responsibility is now available for public comment here. ISO has been working on a standard for organisational responsibility for over 5 years. The standard is likely to be influential across much of the world.

Comments with specific suggested wording will be more powerful. In the UK, comments may be sent to Faye Kalisczack. Elsewhere, contact Kristina Sandberg.


Does it pay to be irresponsible?

ISO, the International Standards Organisation, is developing a standard (ISO26000) on responsibilty. After 7 years of meetings, a draft for public comment has been issued. This has been a painful process.

However it is about to get even more painful since the ISO Council has just decreed that the final version of the standard will be charged for –  depsite repeated requests from those developing it that it should be freely available. So those who want to use it will have to pay, limiting its take-up.

How responsible is that?


Radical Thought

Lord Myners has apparently ‘made the City think’. This is a good thing in any case – but particularly good in that he was concerned to distinguish between ‘investors’, who are good at buying and selling shares, and ‘owners’, who have an interest and care about the companies they own. He wanted more owning, floating ideas such as greater voting rights for those shareholders who stay with the company, as in France.

What is sad is that this common sense approach to a real problem was characterised as ‘radical’.


Constructing the Compact

The Global Compact is facing a real challenge in its handling of the complaint against PetroChina by NGOs.

If it fudges the issue, its credibility will be undermined.  If it de-lists PetroChina, it will appear to be going backwards. So if PetroChina will not respond constructively, then perhaps the Global Compact should.

One root of the problem is the structure of the Global Compact.  It combines setting the standard with judging those who try to apply it.  This gives it the potential for conflicts of interest.  Dealing with such issues is a well-trodden path.  Maybe it is time the Global Compact set out on that journey.


The Supply of IF's

Now we have a new code for companies to pay (small) suppliers properly – that is according to the terms they agreed to in the first place.  This will be good news, if there is anything like a fixed contract between them. And especially:

– if the big supermarkets sign up to it

– if their suppliers have managed to negotiate a fair set of terms to begin with.

That’s quite a lot of ‘ifs’.