Social Responsibility

The rise of being “social”

The social responsibility movement started with debates about corporations having a responsibility to society – it is now recognized that people, planet and profit are mutually inclusive. Since these early discussions, the concept has seen many transformative moments, including the launch of ISO 26000, a standard which has gained traction and credibility in less than a decade.

“I thought I was the only one struggling to reconcile my career with the demands of family, but after this session, hearing from managers and other colleagues, I can see how it is possible to enjoy both raising children and my job!” Fujii is just one of a number of Japanese women working at global electronics company NEC Corporation, who attended an event supporting female career opportunities in a country where women’s active involvement in the workplace is sorely lacking.

To achieve its goal, NEC Corporation turned to ISO 26000, the world’s first voluntary standard on social responsibility, which has helped thousands of organizations operate in an environmentally, socially and economically responsible way. Since its publication seven years ago, ISO 26000 has been adopted as a national standard in over 80 countries (and counting!) and its text is available in some 22 languages.

It is also referenced in more than 3 000 academic papers, 50 books and numerous doctorates, and is used by organizations of all shapes and sizes including Petrobras, Air France, British Telecom, NEC, NovoNordisk and Marks & Spencer, to name a few.

For some organizations, including NEC, this wasn’t the first dip in the waters of social responsibility; but for others, the standard has helped catapult the concept into the future, to the extent that it is now being recognized by the European Commission as a key tool for promoting progress in all areas of social responsibility, and one which is at the root of their social responsibility strategy.

The emergence of “social”

Leadership of the ISO working group on social responsibility (from left): Co-Secretary Eduardo Campos de São Thiago, Vice Chair Catarina Munck af Rosenschöld (2005), Chair Jorge E.R. Cajazeira, and Secretary Kristina Sandberg.

In the early years of ISO’s founding in 1947, manufacturers were the main users of ISO standards. Nuts and bolts, that’s what we did! But in the 1970s, the organization began paying attention to consumer needs, chiefly because consumers were making their voices heard and demanding that their requirements be taken into account. Heeding the call, ISO created the ISO Committee on consumer policy (COPOLCO) in 1978 to encourage and facilitate the involvement of consumers in the standardization process.

From that moment on, the consumer experience became a key driver in standardization, and although COPOLCO’s early priorities were still largely based on consumer products like bicycles and dishwashers, by the 1990s the focus had expanded to more socially oriented issues, such as services, accessibility and safety. It was then that standards and guidelines on aspects like ageing societies began to emerge, with documents such as the ISO/IEC policy statement “Addressing the needs of the elderly and persons with disabilities in standardization work”, published in 2001.


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