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What Is ISO 26000 – Guidance on Social Responsibility?

Quality Glossary Definition: ISO 26000

ISO 26000 is defined as the international standard developed to help organizations effectively assess and address social responsibilities that are relevant and significant to their mission and vision; operations and processes; customers, employees, communities, and other stakeholders; and environmental impact.

ISO 26000 at a Glance

ISO 26000 and Organizational Social Responsibility
ISO 26000 and Organizational Social Responsibility

  • Is intended as guidance, not for certification
  • Presents a comprehensive documentation of social responsibilities including core subjects and issues related to those subjects
  • Was published in 2010 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a specialized international agency for standardization composed of the national standards bodies of more than 160 countries
  • Was written by a unique multi-sectoral group representing governments; non-governmental organizations (NGOs); industry; consumer groups; labor; and academic, consulting, and other organizations around the world
  • More than 400 experts and 200 observers from 99 countries and 42 international organizations contributed to the development effort
  • Last reviewed for possible revision in 2014

The ISO 26000 standard provides guidance on:

  • Recognizing social responsibility and engaging stakeholders
  • Ways to integrate socially responsible behavior into the organization
  • The seven key underlying principles of social responsibility:
    • Accountability
    • Transparency
    • Ethical behavior
    • Respect for stakeholder interests
    • Respect for the rule of law
    • Respect for international norms of behavior
    • Respect for human rights
  • The seven core subjects and issues pertaining to social responsibility:
    • Organizational governance
    • Human rights
    • Labor practices
    • The environment
    • Fair operating practices
    • Consumer issues
    • Community involvement and development

In addition to providing definitions and information to help organizations understand and address social responsibility, ISO 26000-2010 emphasizes the importance of results and improvements in performance on social responsibility.

Who should use ISO 26000?

Organizations in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, whether large or small, and whether operating in developed or developing countries, use ISO 26000. All of the core subjects of social responsibility are relevant in some way to every organization.

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

What does ISO 26000 accomplish?

ISO 26000 aims to:

  • Assist organizations 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 organizations 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

This standard is not intended to reduce government’s authority to address the social responsibility of organizations.

How to get started with ISO 26000

ASQ is the only place to get ASQ/ANSI/ISO 26000-2010, the American National Standards Institute version of ISO 26000:2010.

Purchase the e-standard or ask about a site license for posting an electronic version to your Local Area Network or Intranet.

core subjects of social responsibility

The ISO 26000 standard defines the core subjects of social responsibility. Core subjects comprise a number of issues, but it is each organization's responsibility to identify issues are relevant and significant to their stakeholders and/or need to be addressed.

The seven core subjects are explained in Clause 6 of the ISO 26000 standard. They are listed below, along with their subclause numbers.

Core subject: Organizational governance, subclause 6.2
Decisions are to be made in consideration of the expectations of society. Accountability, transparency, ethics, and stakeholders should be factors in the organization’s decision-making process.

Core subject: Human rights, subclause 6.3
All humans have the right to fair treatment and the elimination of discrimination, torture, and exploitation.

  • 6.3.3 Due diligence
  • 6.3.4 Human rights risk situations
  • 6.3.5 Avoidance of complicity
  • 6.3.6 Resolving grievances
  • 6.3.7 Discrimination and vulnerable groups
  • 6.3.8 Civil and political rights
  • 6.3.9 Economic, social, and cultural rights
  • 6.3.10 Fundamental principles and rights at work

Core subject: Labor practices, subclause 6.4
Those working on behalf of the organization are not a commodity. The goal is to prevent unfair competition based on exploitation and abuse.

  • 6.4.3 Employment and employment relationships
  • 6.4.4 Conditions of work and social protection
  • 6.4.5 Social dialogue
  • 6.4.6 Health and safety at work
  • 6.4.7 Human development and training in the workplace

Core subject: Environment, subclause 6.5
The organization has a responsibility to reduce and eliminate unsustainable volumes and patterns of production and consumption and to ensure that resource consumption per person becomes sustainable.

  • 6.5.3 Prevention of pollution
  • 6.5.4 Sustainable resource use
  • 6.5.5 Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • 6.5.6 Protection of the environment, biodiversity, and restoration of natural habitats

Core subject: Fair operating practices, subclause 6.6
Building systems of fair competition, preventing corruption, encouraging fair competition, and promoting the reliability of fair business practices help to build sustainable social systems.

  • 6.6.3 Anti-corruption
  • 6.6.4 Responsible political involvement
  • 6.6.5 Fair competition
  • 6.6.6 Promoting social responsibility in the value chain
  • 6.6.7 Respect for property rights

Core subject: Consumer issues, subclause 6.7
The promotion of just, sustainable, and equitable economic and social development with respect to consumer health, safety, and access is the organization’s responsibility.

  • 6.7.3 Fair marketing, factual, and unbiased information and fair contractual practices
  • 6.7.4 Protecting consumers' health and safety
  • 6.7.5 Sustainable consumption
  • 6.7.6 Consumer service, support, and complaint and dispute resolution
  • 6.7.7 Consumer data protection and privacy
  • 6.7.8 Access to essential services
  • 6.7.9 Education and awareness

Core subject: Community involvement and development, subclause 6.8
The organization should be involved with creating sustainable social structures where increasing levels of education and well-being can exist.

  • 6.8.3 Community involvement
  • 6.8.4 Education and culture
  • 6.8.5 Employment creation and skills development
  • 6.8.6 Technology development and access
  • 6.8.7 Wealth and income creation
  • 6.8.8 Health
  • 6.8.9 Social investment

Learn more about these social responsibility core subjects from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

What is social responsibility reporting?

ISO 26000: Guidance on social responsibility urges that, at appropriate intervals, users should report on their performance on social responsibility to the stakeholders affected. The standard suggests that the report should include:

  • Information about objectives and performance on the core subjects and relevant issues of social responsibility
  • How and when stakeholders have been involved in the reporting
  • A fair and complete picture of performance, including achievements and shortfalls, and the way in which shortfalls will be addressed

ISO 26000 suggests that the credibility of reports would be enhanced by addressing conformance to the reporting guidelines of an external organization.

  • The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded to develop and manage a sustainability reporting framework, has published a guidance document called GRI G4. The document provides assistance to organizations who wish to use GRI guidelines as the reporting framework for their implementations of ISO 26000.
  • Another NGO, CSRWire, offers CSR & Sustainability Reports, a collection of current and past corporate sustainability, social responsibility, and environmental reports, as well the press releases that accompanied the reports.

ISO 26000 Resources

You can also search articles, case studies, and publications for ISO26000 resources.


ISO 26000 In Practice: A User Guide

Sustainable Business And Industry


Social Responsibility And The Quality Professional: The Implications Of ISO 26000 (PDF) Quality professionals can be of great assistance in advancing a corporate strategy that has both socially-focused and bottom-line benefits. This paper reviews key elements of the new standard to enhance understanding and explore its implications for quality professionals.

Embedding Social Responsibility Principles Within Quality Leadership Practices (Quality Management Journal) The same leadership behaviors used to shift culture for quality improvement purposes can be used toward shifting culture toward social responsibility. Use ISO 26000 as a framework of what to do and how to behave to embed social responsibility principles during culture shift.

Socially Constructed (Quality Progress) Lord John Browne, former chief executive at BP, has announced the failure of corporate social responsibility. Poor reporting and lack of standardization seemed to doom the initiative. But is there still hope?

Understanding And Achieving Social Responsibility (Journal for Quality and Participation) Many organizations strive to make social responsibility a key perspective in future plans and strategies. Many quality professionals believe that quality and social responsibility are tied together, and deepen the field by taking processes into account. Because social responsibility is still a hard term to define, the International Organization for Standardization released its standard, ISO 26000.


ISO 26000 In Practice Authors Michelle Bernhart and Sonny Maher provide an overview of social responsibility and introduce the ISO 26000 standard and their book, which acts as a point-to-point guide to integrating SR in your organization.

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