Thursday, 11 September 2008

Developing an international standard: guidance on social responsibility for all organisations OR let's speak ISO!

Sadie Homer, CI expert, writes from the sixth ISO SR (social responsibility) Working Group meeting held in Santiago, Chile:

"Socially responsible… what is it? How do you become it? And then how do you tell people how you are getting on with it?

Now get six different stakeholder groups from over 80 different countries and an additional 40 international organisations to develop and agree upon an easily understood, concise document… simple!

The world of standards may seem to most a mystery consisting of many acronyms, such as WD, CD, IDTF, TC, DIS, SC, COPOLCO and long meetings in far-flung corners of the world.

To some consumer representatives, new to the world of International standards and attending the 6th meeting of the working group, it meant a fast learning curve in both procedures and negotiating.

Knowledge of consumer issues in social responsibility such as precautionary principle, sphere of influence, consumer rights, sustainable consumption and issues in IP and privacy issues were thankfully in good supply.

It amazes me at each meeting, regardless of language difficulties, jet lag and a desire to see the outside world, that every morning at 8am all 25 consumer representatives turned up without fail to discuss strategies for making sure what we want in, is in and debate exactly how we are going to go about doing this.

Consumers may be the smallest stakeholder group – alongside labour – but in this multi-stakeholder group we are respected as the most cohesive and focused. Of course inside the consumer group, there are always a range of positions on any topic. Different countries, regions, economic situations and cultures bring to our attention very different consumer issues.

Consumer groups have different priorities, from the possible impact of trade implications, animal welfare, how to report to the inclusion of help boxes on ISO 10 000 - but so far we have always managed to incorporate these into a consensus consumer position to present to the working group.

The working group is a huge talking shop and it always seems amazing that somehow at the end of the week the document, which will eventually give practical guidance on how organisations can actually integrate social responsibility into their everyday ways of working, advances a step closer to reality.

At the first meeting it would have been seen as impossible that six very different stakeholders – industry, labour, government, consumers, NGOs and SSRO (no one can even remember what that acronym means) would all be in one room cheering and clapping that this international standard had progressed from WD to CD or that all 394 people in the room would actually understand what that meant.

You are welcome to join if you want to learn to speak ISO!!!"

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