Magazines & Journals
Informed Outlook

Printer Friendly
I Want To

Volume 8 · Issue 9 · September 2003


Organizational Social Responsibility (OSR) Subject of ISO Study
ISO Conference on Need for OSR Standards Likely in 2004

The multistakeholder advisory group that recommended in February 2003 that ISO launch provisional work addressing the social responsibility of organizations has been moving forward with its work since then, although not at the speed expected. Nevertheless, the result is expected to be an international conference in May or June 2004 to determine whether there is a need for standards on organizational social responsibility (OSR), formerly referred to as corporate social responsibility.

At a time when the ISO Technical Committee (TC) responsible for the ISO 9000 series has been given responsibility for drafting standards that are somewhat consumer-oriented (see “US to Push Process Focus for Dispute/Codes of Conduct NWIs” on page 3), some participating member bodies (P-members) of ISO/TC 207 are watching the activities of the OSR advisory group, including the US Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to TC 207. The reason is that the ISO Committee on Consumer Policy (COPOLCO), which advocated for development of three standards that will soon be part of the ISO 9000 series, also proposed in June 2002 that ISO develop of a standard addressing 13 topics relating to OSR, 5 of which could fall within the scope of TC 207’s work.

At its August 2002 meeting, the US TAG to TC 207 adopted a position that the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) should oppose development of OSR standards by ISO and that, if they are to be developed, should not be assigned to ISO/TC 207. Nevertheless, the TAG discussed the status of the advisory group’s work.

As reported in the February 2003 issue, the advisory group recommended at a February 16-17, 2003, meeting in Geneva that ISO take two steps:

  • Develop a technical report (TR) surveying the worldwide state-of-the-art in social responsibility codes, guidelines and specifications
  • Carry out a justification study, with a view to the preparation of a management system guidelines standard that specifically includes a process for the self-declaration of conformity by organizations and excludes conformity assessment involving third-party registration.

Subsequent to that meeting, the ISO Technical Management Board (TMB) considered the advisory group’s recommendations and decided to send the recommendations on to the ISO Council for the Council’s input at its March 13-14, 2003, meeting. As a result, the TMB and the ISO Council adopted the advisory group’s recommendations to study OSR by developing the TR and carrying out a justification study. In effect, the advisory group was directed to proceed on the recommendations with the goal of quickly determining whether there was a need for ISO to engage in standardization in this field and what to standardize.

However, when the US TAG to ISO/TC 207 met in Washington, DC, August 25-26, neither the TR nor the justification study had yet been finalized. The TR, which was to be the first step in the process, is still being drafted, and the TR proposal will go out for ballot and comment among the ISO member bodies once it is completed.

“The TMB is not happy with the speed,” noted Adam Greene, a member of the US TAG who has followed this issue. He indicated that the TMB did not expect the surveying of existing OSR documentation and requirements to take more than a few months. However, the advisory group appears to have decided to move forward on the justification study at the same time as the TR.

According to Greene, since the ISO Council adopted the recommendations, the advisory group has met in Sao Paolo, Brazil, to make decisions about the process to be followed in developing the justification study. Three key areas of the study, and the parties to be responsible for them, were agreed upon as follows:

  • An overview of OSR, including the state-of-the-art in social responsibility codes, guidelines and specifications. The overview is to be written by a consultant having expertise in this area and chosen by the advisory group to assist with the development of the study, especially due to the short timeline for the project.
  • An examination and discussion of the challenges of and opportunities for ISO standardization in the area of OSR, previously referred to as corporate social responsibility. This area of the study is to be written by the consultant in conjunction with the advisory group, which will determine the content for this area.
  • An annex providing a list of social responsibility initiatives that have been undertaken around the world.

“The main purpose of the meeting in Sao Paolo was to select a consultant to work on this study and to determine the content for the study,” reported Greene to the US TAG to ISO/TC 207, which has been mentioned as a possible TC for the development of these standards if the ISO member bodies decide to move in this direction. In fact, the advisory group is chaired by Daniel Gagnier, Senior Vice President, Corporate and External Affairs, of Alcan Inc., and International Chair of ISO/TC 207. “Two choices for the consultant’s position were considered and review of a draft study is expected to be the next step in this area.”

Based on the information from Greene and others at the TAG meeting, the following steps are expected to occur in the last quarter of 2003 and the first quarter of 2004:

  • Once written, the proposed TR will go out for balloting by the member bodies to ISO. “This is at the ANSI level right now,” explained Greene, referring to the fact that ANSI is the US member body to ISO and would cast the US vote on the TR. It would be expected that the vote is to ensure agreement by the member bodies with the “survey results” and to offer any additional social responsibility initiatives that should be included in the TR.
  • The consultant and advisory group on social responsibility will complete a first draft of the justification study and circulate it for review by the ISO member bodies. This will involve a ballot for comment by the member bodies, which will indicate any concerns with the content of the justification study, including the initiatives in the annex.
  • The advisory group will address the comments on the first draft of the study and issue a second draft. At this point, ISO will hold an international conference to discuss the study and to determine if, based on the study, there is a need for international standards in the OSR area.

“The study is pretty much the precursor for justification of a new work item proposal on an organizational social responsibility guidelines standard,” remarked Greene.

The US TAG to TC 207 has indicated its opposition to the development of OSR standards and to the acceptance of responsibility by ISO/TC 207 for the drafting of any such standards should the ISO conference result in support for their development. It was noted by several attendees at the opening plenary meeting of the US TAG that ISO has held two conferences/workshops on the need for occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) standards and that on both occasions a solid majority of the member bodies opposed their development.

However, it was also pointed out that the British Standards Institution responded to the demands of several companies and their registrars for an OHSMS specifications standard by developing OHSAS 18001 with several of those registrars, and that there are now more than 4,000 registrations to OHSAS 18001 by organizations globally.

The advisory group comprises 21 participants chosen to represent a wide spectrum of stakeholder interests, including business, government regulators, trade unions and consumers, as well as different geographic regions. In addition to a US representative from Motorola, North America is represented on the advisory group by someone from the Environmental Management Consultants of CV in Mexico.

THE OUTLOOK will provide additional coverage once the advisory group has issued an initial draft of the justification study.