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An international standard for CSR

In 2001, the idea of an internationally agreed standard for corporate social responsibility (CSR) was raised as a serious possibility for the first time. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is currently gathering opinions on whether a standardized interpretation of CSR is desirable or feasible.

In August 2001, ISO's Consumer Policy Committee, also known as COPOLCO, created a working group to weigh up the pros and cons of an international CSR standard. The 'CSR and Standards Forum' is being facilitated by the Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs.

'ISO International Standards could play a useful role in laying out guidelines or looking at specific areas where defining conduct could be helpful,' explains Dr Nils Ringstedt, chairman of COPOLCO.

The proposed framework, if it materializes, would sit alongside other ISO voluntary standards such as the 14000 and 9000 series. As with other ISO standards, legislators would be able to cite it in legislation and in court decisions.

The working group published its draft recommendations in April 2002, and a final report is scheduled for June 2002. After that, the ISO Council will decide whether to take the idea further, or whether instead to abandon it.

According to Dr Kernaghan Webb, facilitator of the CSR and Standards Forum, there are a number of ways in which companies could benefit from being certified under an ISO social responsibility standard. They include attracting more customers and investors, lowering insurance premiums, and reducing the likelihood of costly accidents. Furthermore, they could lead to improved relations with business partners, workers, the community, governments and NGOs.

For more details about the CSR and Standards Forum, contact Dr Kernaghan Webb at the Government of Canada.

ISO has decided to proceed with the development of SR standards. IISD is following the developments closely, including participating as a member of the ISO Advisory Group on Social Responsibility. For an update on the latest developments please click here.

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