Why does the Danish government endorse the ISO26000 scheme when it is clearly not the intent of ISO

Panorama of ISO 26000

Image via Wikipedia

According to a resent published article on Ethical Corporation it is claimed that “Rogue certification of the new sustainability standards has become a challenge for ISO” and nothing could be truer.

At the same time that the ISO 26000 standard was issued a group of policy makers, companies, CSR professionals and not least Danish Standard held a conference promoting DS26000 a certifiable standard that organizations can use to certify their CSR work. In an almost simultaneous press release from International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) was any claim of certification deemed as in contradiction to the intend of the CR ISO26000 standard itself. The Danish Standard have subsequently revised their communication and conveniently deleted all mention of certification on their site, but this does close get the ‘cat’ back into the bag so to speak.

Ethical Corporation lists a series of issues that they believe a certification of the ISO will bring to the surface. The list includes for example that consulting firms will attempt to make a ‘quick buck’ by offering ISO 26000 certification, which is true for Denmark were Danish Standard offered this type of service. Companies will start asking their suppliers to comply with ISO 26000 as a condition to do business, businesses trying to get favorable attention from consumers by claiming compliance with ISO 26000, and governments trying to use ISO 26000 to develop a social responsibility regulation. All of these behaviors have been seen in relation to other types of ISO standards products.
The standards-setting body of ISO have made it very clear that ISO 26000 was a voluntary guidance standard, not a management system. Since it is not a management system, such as ISO 9000 or ISO 14001, it is not at least in theory be a certifiable system.

“The decision to make ISO 26000 a guidance standard instead of a certifiable system reflected the concerns of industry representatives not to overburden business with costly certification requirements.”, says Paul Hohnen, an independent sustainability consultant who participated in the ISO 26000 negotiations as a representative of the Global Reporting Initiative.

While the Danish standard DS 26000 was only at its initial phases of its marketing process others have come a long way in their efforts to top the market. Such as the Hong Kong-based certification firm Accredited Certification International started openly “awarding” ISO 26000 certification to Chinese companies and announcing their names on its website. 

The question now is what will be the next move of ISO on these rouge operators will they do as they recently claimed in a press release and revoke Danish standard and others right to certify according to ISO. Or will they just ignore these operators because the price of revoking the license will be to great even for ISO. As Robert Frost, says Robert Frost, head of communication at the ISO central secretariat in Geneva puts it “Anyone tempted into buying such a service is wasting their money and risks damaging the credibility of their organisation since ISO has made it quite clear that ISO 26000 is not a certification standard,” and he continues “At this stage, ISO is more interested in stopping the practice than in naming the culprits,”. These comments might give an indication of what ISO intend to do but for many CSR professionals, researchers or just interested stakeholders this is the time when CSR standards are being put to the test and all future standards will in some form be emulated on the basis of the outcome of this discussion.

Get certified to ISO 26000 (part II)

As promised I went to the official opening of DS26000 a Danish interpretation of ISO26000 which you can be certified to. The DS stands for Danish Standard and the organisation have a license to certify ISO products in Denmark. The presentation was situated in the centre of beautiful Copenhagen at the 400 years old observatory. You might be able to remember I had my doubt about the new program and being at the presentation did nit make me less apprehensive.

  • The international ISO organisation does not support any type of certification actually they state very clearly that any claim that one is certified to the ISO26000 standard is contradictory to it wishes. As they state in there press release per 30 of November on their position as:

ISO 26000 has the purpose of globally enhancing social responsibility, sustainability and ethical behaviour in all kinds of organizations

There will be no accredited certification to ISO 26000 as this is contrary to the intent and spirit of the standard

Any claims of certification to ISO 26000 are misleading and are not a demonstration of conformity to ISO 26000

ISO members will report any organizations providing certification to ISO 26000 to the ISO Central Secretariat

ISO shall communicate this to its members who will be requested to communicate within their own countries to regulators, stakeholders and industry.”

I had the opportunity to ask the panel about what they thought of the position of ISO on making a certified standard and they claim that. 1) It is not contradictory to ISO26000. 2) That DS are front runners and others might see the benefit in the long term. 3) That the ISO process was in essence a compromise and that Danish organisations have more freedom to manoeuvre.

  • CSR is in essence a product of globalization. This means in practice that any CSR effort has to meet the needs of the globalised world e.g utilization across borders, regions, cultures, etc. One cannot go against the international norms and standards because the organisations rely on systems that can be used in more than just one reality. If a given system is going to be successful it basically needs to look beyond itself.

In the world of economics international systems have been in place for a long time and even though there are many flaws they do act as a platform for a common language.

  • ISO wants the standard to be in the front end of formulation what the discourse on CSR should look like. But already one month after the initial start-up we see that there are cracks in the interpretation and how the system should be implemented. With DS going their own way and with the emergence of new CR standards like BS8900, it is unlikely that it will have the rigidity needed to stand the test of time. Simply because there is no consistency or common understand of what the basics of the standard is about.

Conclusion:

I think it is a grave mistake to create a certified program and thereby showing how divided the organisations are on the issue of CSR (understood in the broadest possible terms). The ISO 26000 was one of the milestones that many organisations and professionals had been waiting for and the product in it self is not all bad. It is a compromise and there are flaws but it is to be expected and I’m sure that it can be worked out. However, if the debate is going to be about formalities and process like certification, lengths, definitions and claims of legitimacy then we are not doing the world a favour by introducing yet another definition of what good CSR work looks like.

I also wonder what the response is going to be from ISO, if any. If the organisation should live up to their words presented in the press release they would have to sanction DS in some way or another or at least make a public statement about if they support DS in their business venture. It is a clear conflict which needs to be resolved as quickly as possible not for the sake of the organisations but to insure the future success of the ISO26000.