Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden officially opened the ISO conference on social responsibility in Stockholm today, declaring, "Social responsibility concerns us all".
The conference, 21-22 June 2004, hosted by the Swedish Standards Institute (SIS), will provide feedback to assist ISO in deciding whether or not to propose the development of International Standards or other ISO tools addressing the social responsibility of organizations.
More than 300 participants are attending from all regions of the world, including over 30 developing countries and representatives of all major groups with an interest in social responsibility.
Speaking at the opening plenary session, ISO´s Vice-President (policy) Ms. Ziva Patir, underlined the importance ISO gave to working with stakeholders: "This conference has participants from the various market sectors: the private sector, such as manufacturers and service providers, the national public sector, international nongovernmental organizations, the consumer, academia and non-profit organizations. This is what ISO and standardization is all about. We try to bring together all sectors of the economy, all the relevant stakeholders, to reach a consensus."
ISO Vice-President (technical) Ms. Ziva Patir
ISO Deputy Secretary-General Mr. Kevin McKinley said that the subject of social responsibility was not new, but in the last few years, it has at one time or another received attention from all categories of stakeholders.
"In fact, stakeholder views on social responsibility are as varied as the interest groups involved, "he added. "This mainstream attention to the issue has also demanded that ISO consider whether International Standards on social responsibility can add value to industry and society as a whole.
ISO Deputy Secretary-General Mr. Kevin McKinley
"Over the next two days, we embark on what I hope will be a truly informative and challenging series of discussions on the need for international standards in the area of social responsibility."
The keynote address was given by Mr. Khaled Abu Osbeh, representative of the United Nations Global Compact.
"There are literally hundreds of voluntary corporate social responsibility initiatives," he said. "If CSR is to become a truly global force that transcends narrow national or group-specific interests, then there is a need to align CSR initiatives with robust and universally recognized principles.
Mr. Khaled Abu Osbeh delivered
the plenary keynote address
on behalf of the United Nations Global Compact
He went on to say: "It is the Global Compact Office´s hope that CSR initiatives will ultimately converge and reinforce one another around universal principles and values, like those of the Global Compact. ISO can be a key force in helping to bring about this vision.
"Moreover, since the vast majority of the existing voluntary CSR codes and initiatives were developed in OECD countries, with little input from companies outside that context, ISO work in this area would and should offer important opportunities for participation to companies and other actors in developing countries.
"Standardization in this area could help promote greater efficiency as well as a more level playing field so that developing country companies can compete on a more even footing with their counterparts in other countries. Through the development of a common global understanding of corporate citizenship issues and globally accepted benchmarks and criteria for businesses and other organizations, ISO could help Global Compact participants and others to internalize the principles.
"ISO standards in this area could also help to facilitate acceptance of a more global approach by national governments and stakeholders who may, in some cases, choose to use or defer to ISO standards rather than develop their own national or regulatory approaches.
"For these reasons, the Global Compact Office has asked me to communicate that it, on behalf of the UN Secretary-General, sees the value of ISO involving itself in operationalizing the principles contained in UN and other inter-governmental instruments relevant to corporate social responsibility, and that the UN Global Compact Office is also committed to working with ISO to help realize this."
ISO established an advisory group on social responsibility (SR) in early 2003 to help it decide on eventual involvement in SR. 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 Mr. Daniel Gagnier, Senior Vice-President, External and Corporate Affairs, Alcan Inc..
This group has prepared a report for ISO including an overview of SR initiatives worldwide identifying issues that should be taken into account by ISO, plus a set of recommendations.
The report, recommendations from the advisory group, feedback from the conference and from ISO´s dedicated SR Web site will assist ISO in deciding whether or not to propose the development of International Standards or other ISO tools addressing social responsibility. Any such proposal would be subject to a vote by the full ISO membership.