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ISO 26000 standard: Presentation, principles and application

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Integrating respect for the environment and social responsibility into its development strategy is a key success factor. For companies engaged in such an approach, the ISO 26000 standard is essential.

What is the ISO 26000 standard?

The first international standard setting guidelines for corporate social responsibility (CSR), ISO 26000 was published at the end of 2010 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) after approval by 93% of member countries.

The ISO 26000 standard is not intended to lead to a certification protocol. Its purpose is to define the way in which companies and organizations can contribute to sustainable development. In this respect, it serves as a reference for any organization wishing to engage in a CSR approach.

What are the principles and guidelines of ISO 26000?

The ISO 26000 standard does not contain any requirements as such, since it is not suitable for certification. It does, however, contain essential guidelines for the implementation of a corporate social responsibility approach, which are used by the main CSR labels (Lucie, BCorp, Engagé RSE, etc.). The guidelines define the 7 pillars of CSR, namely

  • The central pillar of governance, which involves integrating CSR into the company's overall strategy and applying it at all levels.

Then, around the keystone of organizational governance:

  • Respect for human rights: equal treatment and equal opportunities, application of labor law

  • Labor practices: fostering social dialogue, respecting the labor code and involving employee representatives in company projects

  • Environmental responsibility: seeking to reduce the environmental impact of the company's or organization's activities, through a dual approach of preserving resources and reducing carbon impact.

  • Fair operating practices: ethics and fairness in commercial relations, which can be set out in a charter signed by suppliers and service providers.

  • Consumer issues and protection: through transparency and building trust with customers.

  • Commitment to communities involvment and development: employment of local populations as well as partnerships with local suppliers and service providers contribute to the development of territories.


The benefits of ISO 26000 for companies

The ISO 26000 standard structures the CSR approach of companies, allowing them to communicate more effectively on their strategy. Following the ISO 26000 guidelines allows companies to engage in a sustainable development approach from a social, economic and ecological point of view.

Respecting the principles of the ISO 26000 standard contributes to the ethical development of the company and is also an important performance lever, through the satisfaction of stakeholders, the attractiveness in a tense job market, the improvement of the company's image with consumers and an overall reduction of the risks of failure. On this last point, it is indeed important to note that companies committed to the highest levels of CSR, and therefore the most compliant with the recommendations of the ISO 26000 standard, are also those that present the highest quality of management, that have access to the best financing opportunities, and that occupy the best competitive positions due to their commitments.

Environmental commitments, one of the pillars of the ISO 26000 standard, constitute for companies at the same time factors of cost reduction, reduction of the dependence on fossil fuels and improvement of the brand image.

How to implement ISO 26000 in your company

The guidelines set by the ISO 26000 standard provide companies with a structure for developing a global CSR strategy and making it operational.

The first two steps consist, on the one hand, in assessing the impact of the company's activities in order to identify the priority issues and to set objectives, and on the other hand, in identifying the different stakeholders in order to involve them in the approach.

Secondly, it will be necessary to deploy the principles of the ISO 26000 standard by integrating the commitments and priority actions into the company's organization. The effectiveness of the actions will have to be measured and their results evaluated in relation to the objectives set.

Finally, CSR reporting is an essential element of any CSR approach based on the ISO 26000 standard, since it allows the company to meet the principle of transparency, which consists of communicating with stakeholders on its actions and social and environmental commitments.

Labels based on ISO 26000 and other CSR-related standards

The use of third-party organizations facilitates both the evaluation and the communication with stakeholders. Several CSR labels are based on the principles of the ISO 26000 standard, in France and abroad.

The Lucie label, for example, is a French label based on ISO 26000. This label provides companies with recognition and proof of their commitment to CSR progress.

Some organizations issue a performance score that indicates the level of maturity of the company's practices with regard to the guidelines of the ISO 26000 standard. This is the case of the AFAQ 26000 developed by Afnor. Other assessments, such as the Bureau Veritas assessment based on the CAP 26000 tool, result in a report that can be used to communicate with stakeholders. Companies can also assess their CSR approach using the Ecocert 26000 framework, the Performance 26000 tool developed by SGC, or the measurement scale of the global non-financial rating agency Vigeo.

In addition, other standards set out principles of governance and sustainable management that can be used as a reference to build a solid CSR strategy:

  • ISO 9001, which defines the requirements of a quality management system

  • ISO 14001, which defines the criteria for an environmental management system.

Unlike ISO 26000, these two standards are suitable for certification.

In conclusion

The ISO 26000 standard is doubly important for companies: not only does it define the principles of socially and environmentally responsible governance, but it also serves to evaluate the overall performance of organizations and their commitment to sustainable development. Its guidelines allow companies to reduce ESG (environmental, social and governance) risks. Several labels that are essential to a company's image and communication are based on the content and guidelines of the ISO 26000 standard.


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