Update of the ISO-CSR activities

Source: ISO COPOLCO CSR, 9 January 2002

The CSR and Standards Forum was created in August, 2001, following the May, 2001 meeting of ISO COPOLCO (Consumer Policy Committee) in Oslo, Norway.
The purpose of the Forum is to facilitate worldwide discussion of the
possible role of standards (i.e., standards developed through the formal
standards system, at the national and international level) to articulate and promote the concept of corporate social responsibility. The Forum is designed to provide a mechanism for increasing awareness and promoting constructive discussion of new and existing corporate social responsibility initiatives (be they developed through the standards systems or not), and their relevance to existing or potential standards projects. It is recognized that widespread private sector adherence to corporate social responsibility criteria is likely to be the result of a combination of approaches, including inter-governmental agreements, domestic legislative and regulatory techniques, standards developed through the formal standards system, voluntary codes, and education/information approaches.
The Forum operates as a list-serve, which means that any registered member of the Forum may post an e-mail to the Forum, which is then sent to all the members, wherever located. At the present time, there is no internet repository of previous postings to the Forum.

The Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs is facilitating the operation of the Corporate Social Responsibility and Standards Forum on behalf of the ISO COPOLCO Working Group on Consumer Protection in the Global Market.

Institutional and Legal framework for Proposed CSR Standards: Preliminary Thinking

As currently envisaged, the proposed standard would be an ISO standard, and as such would be a voluntary standard. Institutionally, all ISO standards are part of the international (ISO) and national standards infrastructure (e.g., Standards Council of Canada, CSA, QMI etc. in Canada, and ANSI and its partners in the U.S.), which, because of its wide coverage, can facilitate implementation in many jurisdictions. With respect to legal frameworks, the proposed ISO standard could be used by legislators (and others) as they see fit. This would be similar to the ISO 14000 environmental management series of standards, which are voluntary, but for which governments and courts may choose (and in some cases, have chosen) to rely on in legislation and court decisions as they see fit.
From a WTO standpoint, jurisdictions which adhere to or adopt ISO standards in legislation will likely withstand WTO challenges because of the rules-based transparent standards development process that is apparently compatible with the TBT Agreement, and its Code of Good Practice. (This is not to suggest that the ISO standards development process cannot be improved: undoubtedly it can. Indeed, efforts are currently underway to explore some aspects, such as through the FVTF process of ISO Technical Committee 207, which addresses environmental management standards).
ISO COPOLCO CSR and Standards Initiative Process Within ISO, this initiative originated from ISO COPOLCO, the Consumer Policy Committee of ISO. ISO COPOLCO has established a working group on the possible role of standards to protect and promote the interests of consumers in the global marketplace. The working group is studying the feasibility and desirability of ISO Corporate Social Responsibility Standards. Following comments from interested individuals, the working group will table their report at the next meeting of COPOLCO, in June, 2002. ISO COPOLCO will then consider that report and make a recommendation to Council as they see fit.
ISO Council will then make a decision on whether to proceed in some fashion with ISO Corporate Social Responsibility standards.

Participants in the Forum

Although the primary audience of the Forum is members of the standards community around the world, anyone who is interested can join the forum.
There are currently more than 300 members on the Forum (more joining every day), from all parts of the world, from business, government, non-governmental organizations, academia, and others.

What kind of businesses and professionals find the forum useful?

Any individual business or business association which has CSR initiatives or is contemplating CSR initiatives may find the Forum useful. Government, NGO representatives, academics, and others may also find it useful.

Issues Currently Being Discussed
Issues include:
(1) what are the drivers (i.e., the motivations) for businesses to adhere to ISO Corporate Social Responsibility Standards
(2) what are the possible substantive CSR obligations which could be included in ISO CSR standards?
(3) what would be the form and process of ISO CSR standards?
(4) What are the advantages and disadvantages of developing and implementing
CSR standards through ISO as opposed to through non-ISO approaches.
(5) what are the next steps?

What kind of status will the standard have?

The status of the proposed standard will be one of the subjects of discussion by the working group. It has not been decided at this point. Moreover, it must be emphasized that the working group will only be making a recommendation concerning the proposed standard. The final decision as to whether to proceed with development of the standard, and what form the standard will take, will be decided by others such as ISO COPOLCO (who may make a recommendation to ISO Council), ISO Council itself, ISO Technical Management Board, and the Technical Committee and working group that might be assigned responsibility for developing the standard.

Additional background information:

A working group is preparing a draft report on the feasibility and desirability of ISO Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)Standards. This draft will be made available for comments to members of the Forum. Once comments are received, a final version will be prepared and tabled at the next meeting of ISO COPOLCO (the Consumer Policy Committee) in June of 2001. ISO COPOLCO will then make a recommendation to ISO Council(favourable or unfavourable) as to whether or not such ISO CSR standards should be developed.

Although I do not wish to pre-judge what precisely the report may say, in answer to the question of "what can be done with the standard from a business point of view," the contemplated ISO CSR standards could be used by business to attract investors, to attract consumers to their products and services, to decrease insurance premiums, to enhance relations with other businesses (supplier chains), to improve relations with workers and the local community where the company operates, to improve relations with various civil society groups (environmental, human rights, consumer, others), to improve relations with governments, and to decrease the likelihood of negative incidents arising which could impose legal and political costs on businesses. This would be similar to the current situation with respect to ISO 14000 environmental standards.

Dr. Kernaghan Webb
Facilitator, Corporate Social Responsibility and Standards Online Forum, and Senior Legal Policy Advisor & Chief of Research Office of Consumer Affairs Department of Industry, Canadian Government.