ISO 26000: Business as usual
Álvaro J. de Regil
This brief succinctly makes the argument about the business as usual approach that the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has taken in the development of its ISO 26000 standard to address corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices. As was expected, the Final Draft of the standard is not a binding framework. It is a tool that organisations may incorporate discretionally as guidelines to develop their best practices. Far more important, as was also expected, ISO 26000 failed to address the issue of the ineludible obligation of business organisations to pay to all their workers –including those in their supply chains– a living wage, so that their best practices comply with Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As usual, the issue remains a taboo topic, not to be addressed, for it goes directly against the interest of the market. Moreover, what was not expected, was that the ISO 26000 is an exception to customary practice inside ISO. In contrast with most of its standards, ISO 26000 is not a tool that can be used to certify the practices of an organisation that claims to have incorporated ISO’s 26000 CSR guidelines. Such particularity plays all the more in favour of business organisations, where the mantra is to leave all issues up to the logic of the market, which has as its only purpose the maximisation of shareholder value.
One of the most consistent issues in all the guidelines, norms, standards and principles currently available “in the market”, is the sheer degree of ambiguity of many of its concepts. One fundamental reason for this is the ambiguous ethos in which international conventions –including those binding upon States– have been developed. For instance, decent work, a decent standard of living and decent working conditions do not provide a conceptual definition of decent or at least a process to determine what shall be considered “decent” to accurately and objectively qualify these concepts. Everything is left up to the interpretation of governments and businesses, in a discretionary manner, in an ethos completely immersed in the context of the market. Consequently, given that the ISO 26000 is anchored on many international conventions –particularly on the issues pertaining to human and labour rights– it indulges as well in a great deal of ambiguity, when addressing these critical concepts. Furthermore, it leaves the critical issue of the living wage outside its framework. This is so despite the fact that a living wage is a
fundamental responsibility that no business organisation that pretends to be perceived as socially responsible and with a sustainable business model can do without. Such approach does not provide much added value to what is already available. In this way, in regards to ISO’s 26000, the market reigns supreme, once again.