ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is to hold an international conference on the social responsibility of organizations on 21-22 June 2004 in Stockholm, Sweden.
The input provided by the conference will complement the current exploration by ISO of social responsibility initiatives around the world and issues arising. Together, they will form the basis for a decision by ISO on whether or not to launch the development of International Standards or other ISO tools addressing the social responsibility of organizations.
ISO established an advisory group on social responsibility (SR) in early 2003 to help it decide whether an eventual involvement in SR by ISO would add any value to already existing initiatives and programmes. The group comprises representatives from around the world of a wide spectrum of stakeholder interests including business, government, labour, consumers and the environment. It is chaired by Daniel Gagnier, Senior Vice-President, External and Corporate Affairs, Alcan Inc. The group’s exploratory work is proceeding along two axes:
a resource report being developed with the assistance of the London-based consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM) providing information and analyses of current SR initiatives around the world. It will represent "a state of the art" overview of social responsibility as understood and practised by organizations today;
an analysis undertaken by the advisory group based on the resource report of the issues and challenges that ISO will need to consider in taking an informed decision on whether or not to launch work on the social responsibility of organizations, and a set of corresponding recommendations.
The report and recommendations are expected to be finalized by the end of April 2004. ISO will take a decision on the next steps at a meeting in June 2004, when it will also be able to take into account the feedback provided by the international conference.
ISO Secretary-General Alan Bryden clarified the stakes: "Although voluntary, ISO standards can become very influential because of their wide implementation, or because they may be referenced in contracts or legislation. Therefore, before deciding to commit ISO resources to work on international reference or guidance documents on the social responsibility of organizations, it is important for us to establish that there is sufficient support for ISO to become involved and that work we would undertake would not be duplicating what already exists, but actually add value and recognition."
The conference dates and venue have just been confirmed by ISO. Prior to the conference, which will be hosted by the Swedish Standards Institute (SIS), ISO will set up a public Web site to encourage exchanges of information and to allow all interested parties – including those that will not be able to participate directly in the conference – to submit comments. The report being prepared by the ISO advisory group on SR initiatives worldwide will be posted on the Web site at least a month before the conference.
Participation in the conference will be open to delegations from the national standards institutes that make up ISO’s membership. They will be encouraged to ensure a balanced representation of all stakeholder categories, and ISO is to look at ways of making sure that developing countries are well represented. Representatives of concerned international organizations will also be invited to participate.
Alan Bryden summed up: "Whatever the outcome of the current preliminary explorations, the very fact that ISO is being asked to consider the area of social responsibility illustrates the extension of the scope and perception of ISO, from being primarily a technical organization, quite engaged in a broad range of product and technology areas, to one whose work is now increasingly recognized as having important economic and social repercussions. It is also an example of the high level of international confidence in ‘the ISO brand’ and processes."