Opportunities and Options for ISO at the Crossroads:

ISO 26000 Stakeholder Solutions

Background on ISO 26000

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) initiative to develop a standard on social responsibility, ISO 26000, represents an important milestone in ISO’s history. The broadly impacting standard, by its nature, has attracted the attention of stakeholders around the globe including consumer groups, United Nations bodies, labor organizations, and NGOs in addition to the traditional National Standards Bodies and industry drawn to ISO standards making over the last fifty years. ISO has also attracted the attention of an unprecedented number of stakeholders by publicly committing itself to a new level of stakeholder involvement in the SR standard and ISO standard making in general.

ISO’s brand name in the broader consumer world has been put on the line with the organization’s venture into the realm of social responsibility. Unfortunately the ISO Working Group developing the SR standard 26000 has not fully delivered on the promise it has made for increased stakeholder involvement. This jeopardizes the ISO reputation as a standards making body, and also casts doubt on an emerging form of global governance: voluntary standards.

Background on ECOLOGIA and ISO

ECOLOGIA has a unique perspective on ISO standards making. We have been actively involved in a national mirror committee and as an international liaison to TC 207, the ISO committee on environmental standards. We are currently a Liaison D participant in the making of ISO 26000. We have co-chaired subcommittees, drafted standards language, and participated in the full three year standards making process of ISO 14064 (greenhouse gas accounting and verification). We are actively involved in the adaptation and implementation of ISO standards on the ground with large and small enterprises in the United States, Eastern Europe, Russia, and China. It is in the spirit of this deep commitment to standards and global governance that we offer the following recommendations.


While addressing the pressing problems of stakeholder participation in the making of ISO 26000, ISO can and should develop solutions that will have permanent structural impacts on ISO standards making bodies. In this paper we address only funding issues associated with stakeholder involvement in ISO standards making.

  1. Looking beyond NSBs for solutions - We all need to recognize that the diverse cultures involved in ISO do not universally support or understand the benefits of broad stakeholder involvement, nor are they likely to do in the immediate future even if ISO were to ‘enforce’ its desire to include truly balanced national delegations. Ironically, in implementing its own process “standard” on stakeholder involvement, ISO finds itself caught in the dilemma associated with its technical standards: they are voluntary; implementation relies ultimately upon National Standards Bodies (NSBs). However, stakeholder involvement has become a “meta-standard” issue for ISO and cannot be referred to NSBs alone. The global credibility of ISO depends upon its ability to meet minimal levels of meaningful public participation in standards making. The current attitude of “it’s up to NSBs to implement the stakeholder concept” points to problems and not solutions. Stakeholder involvement from under-represented countries and constituencies can be increased without undermining NSBs. For example:
    • Liaison D organizations with international membership can be enlarged, encouraged and funded to include participants from under-represented regions and countries.
    • ISO and its participating members (NGOs, consumer groups, labour, academics, etc.) need to work with NSBs and stakeholders within countries to develop their capacity to constructively contribute to the making and implementation of standards. When stakeholders become valued partners, they are more likely to be included and funded as part of NSB delegations.
  2. ISO standards making committees venturing into social policy need to budget for stakeholder involvement before embarking on standards making - ISO expects the secretariat for its technical committees to demonstrate an ability to adequately fund critical administrative support activities before accepting this responsibility. Developing goals, implementing strategies, and funding adequate budgets are routine functions of business and government. ISO should do the same and secure funding for the minimal threshold of stakeholder involvement before beginning any standards making with social policy implications. The experience with ISO 26000 clearly demonstrates that funding stakeholder involvement while creating a standard does not work. It has allowed ISO to substitute good intentions and policy for action and follow-through.
  3. ISO and its current stakeholders need to articulate the critical global governance issues involved in standards making so that potential donors get it - There is little or no information for foundations , international organizations or corporations explaining what is at stake for global governance and public welfare. In fact much of what is produced by NGOs attacks the credibility and utility of “standards” in a very self-defeating manner. Stakeholder and ISO officials need to be honest yet balanced concerning what can be done in the standards world and we need to work together to present this argument to donors.
  4. ISO needs to proactively support stakeholder efforts to fundraise for ISO standards making participation- Our early experience with efforts to fundraise for ISO stakeholders encountered not only a lack of support, but active prohibition against fundraising. ISO needs policies and procedures that will support stakeholder fundraising efforts.
  5. We need to introduce constructive national level stakeholders to multinational corporations who might sponsor such individuals and/or organizations participation in standards making- Multinational corporations often are change agents introducing ISO standards throughout their supply chains. They need local community allies and partners when implementing meaningful public participation and reporting programs. Investing in the capacity of such partners by funding their involvement in NSB level and international level ISO standards making would be a wise investment. A few pilot programs in this area would demonstrate dramatic results.
  6. We need to include organizational and corporate sponsorship for stakeholder involvement in global governance and NSBs as one important aspect of social responsibility.
The above steps need to be taken immediately in order to address the gap between promise and reality in the highly visible ISO 26000 standards making process.