A Very Readable Guide on the ISO 26000 CSR Guidance: Book Review


By Suresh Kr Pramar

Corporate Social Responsibility is everything and everywhere. Business leaders, the world over, have realized that unabridged greed, unethical behaviour and irresponsible business practices could lead to financial chaos and untold misery worldwide.

The recent Global financial crisis, caused by the irresponsible business practices of companies like Enron, has convinced business that their long term survival depends on responsible and ethical business practices and respect for the community. This realization has swelled the ranks of CSR supporters both in India and abroad.

In India, as elsewhere on the Globe, the CSR fan club is increasing a very rapid pace. More and more companies are trumpeting their acceptance of the CSR agenda and their responsibility toward society. That more money is being spent by companies on “community projects” is now an accepted fact. What is in doubt is whether this increased funding is being spend on actual CSR project or on PR and brand building.

While a substantial majority of companies are involved in brand building in the name of CSR there are an equal number of companies who wish to do good CSR but have neither the knowledge nor the required trained manpower to undertake CSR responsibilities. In their very readable book ‘ISO 26000:The Business Guide to the New Standard on Social Responsibility,’ Lars Moratis and Timo Cochius, highlight some of the barriers to the implementation of CSR.

Among the barrier they have listed are “too little knowledge of CSR; too little knowledge of CSR implementation; no clear action plan,” etc. To overcome these barriers the International Standards Organisation (ISO) has developed a global and overarching guidance document which could create clarity and uniformity in SR (CSR) concepts.

The ISO 26000 SR (CSR) Guideline have been several years in the making starting in 2005. It was released for public use in November 2010. A vast array of stakeholder groups drawn from almost one hundred countries debated and produced these Guidelines.

Experts predict that ISO 26000 is soon likely to be a very authoritative guideline for designing and implementing CSR. Among the main objectives of the Guidelines are to support organizations in defining their social responsibilities and acting in accordance with these responsibilities. Another objective is to increase the credibility of the company’s SR claims.

As a trainer and consultant I am often asked three basic questions: what are the responsibilities of a company; what should a company do to create value in its CSR programmed and How a CSR programme should be implemented. These are question that haunt the minds of all CSR practitioners. ISO 26000, it is expected, answers these questions in some detail.

According to Lars and Tino “Many organizations are urgently in need of an overview, structure and roadmap on how to engage with CSR in practice…only when an organization is aware of its societal impacts, has true and deep concern for these impacts and consciously acts according to these concerns both at a strategic and operational level” can hope of integrating the triple bottom line.”

The two authors point out that every organization has its own individual organization-specific CSR profile. They stress on the need for every organization to interpret CSR in a way that fits its activities, impacts and spheres of influence. Such an approach to CSR, they point out, results in multiple benefits including profits for the organization and profits for the community. Pointing out that CSR has great societal relevance, the two authors, say “business, governments and NGOs have a central role in contributing to the realization of sustainable development.”

ISO 26000 does not use the terminology CSR for its Guidelines. Instead it uses the term SR (Social Responsibility). This has been done with a purpose. “ISO took the decision that its guidance should be appropriate for all organizations not merely for big business as the ‘C’ in CSR implies.”

ISO 26000 is different from the other initiatives of the ISO in that unlike the earlier ISOs, like GRI and the AA 1000 Series, it does not provide for certification. The guideline very clearly states that it is not meant for certification or contractual use. ISO 26000 is a special kind of standard, a Guidance Standard which can be used by organizations on a voluntary basis. According to the author “ISO 26000 wants to be useful for all types of organizations, irrespective of their size, sector, geographic location and irrespective of their stage of SR implementation”

The Business Guide is divided into nine chapters, six interludes and five annexes. It explores the meaning of the term CSR and its origins as also the various interpretations and characteristics of the generally acceptable view. While considering a number of core SR subjects included in ISO 26000 it highlights the fact that the guidelines provides a morality issue as a driver for CSR sidelining the Business case. One of the chapters in the book looks into the reasons behind  ‘its ambitions, scope, objectives and functions’

Perhaps the most important discussion is on the most prominent SR principle within IS0 26000, the respect for stakeholder interests. This principle “deals with the relationships between the organization, its stakeholders and society as a whole.” The authors discuss how organizations can identify their stakeholders and their interests with the help of sever illustrations and examples. The discussion also covers the reasons for creating stakeholder engagement programmes, actions that an organization should undertake in this area and ways to involve stakeholders in the SR policy of the organization.

A useful chapter is one that discusses how organizations should select SR priorities.

‘How an organization defines ‘relevance’ and ‘significance of SR core subjects and related issues, as well as the sphere of influence and organization has.’ The authors have also touched on the need to communicate SR. Writing on integrating SR into the organization they point out that SR implementation is a major challenge for many organizations. “Creating support for SR ad engaging stakeholders is just two of the common problems experienced.” The authors point out that SR communication is essential for enhancing the credibility of SR initiatives and monitoring and improving SR performance.

A timely publication ‘ISO 26000: The Business Guide to the New Standard on Social Responsibility’ could well become an essential resource material for hundreds of organizations across the world. The 200 plus page book covers the key contents of ISO 26000. It looks into the development of the standard, the topics covered and how the key themes such as stakeholders are dealt with.

It has tools and benchmarking exercises, illustrative material, case studies and essential material for companies looking to base their CSR policy on ISO 26000. The book also has an overview of the actions and expectations of organizations that wish to work in accordance with ISO 26000.

This is the first book which provides a comprehensive roadmap to the new standard. It defines the terminology of SR and advises companies on the way in which they can identify their social responsibilities and how SR can be integrated into all types of organizations. A truly readable, educative and useful publication

ISO 26000: The Business Guide to the New Standard on Social Responsibility; Lars Moratis and Tino Cochius; Greenleaf Publishing; 2011

(Suresh Kr Pramar, is Managing Trustee, Global Gandhian Trusteeship & Corporate Responsibility Foundation and the Executive Director, Centre for Training & Research in Responsible Business. A veteran journalist he is presently actively involved in promoting CSR through his publication CRBiz and by conducting workshop on Corporate Social Responsibility. He can be reached at suresh.pramar@gmail.com 09213133042)

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