What are the ISO 26000 standards for corporate social responsibility?

ISO 26000 was developed as an international standard that provides companies with concrete guidelines for development across a variety of categories in the area of social responsibility. We’ll explain the main contents of the standard.

For a long time, corporate social responsibility (CSR) was a term that many companies included in annual reports. In the meantime, more and more overarching standards on a European level and new regulatory requirements for companies with regard to practices at home and abroad have been introduced.

The focus is no longer just on more sustainable business practices. Areas such as diversity and inclusion and leadership are also gaining in significance. Environmental Social Governance (ESG), has also become a very important standard for sustainable investment. These are all standards by which companies are also measured in the public eye. What does the ISO 26000 standard do in this context?

What does the ISO 26000 standard regulate?

The DIN standard officially named DIN ISO 26000 is an internationally coordinated set of guidelines defining the social responsibility of a company on the basis of specified standards and is intended to serve as a guide. The standard is divided into seven subcategories, for example, ‘Organisational Governance’, ‘Environment’ or ‘Human Rights’.

The standard gives an overview of the respective category and describes actions companies can take in this area. The environment category, for example, includes actions relating to reducing environmental pollution and using natural resources.


When it comes to the standardisation of guidelines, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is one of the world’s centres of excellence. The organisation sets overarching standards and determines which are developed. Read more in our article ‘What is ISO?’.

What is the objective of the ISO 26000 standard?

Established in 2010, the standard known as ISO 26000 is intended as a guide that provides an overview of various social responsibility principles and practices. It pursues the goal that companies continuously align their activities with consideration to their social responsibility. The standard is intended to support companies and organisations in implementing concrete measures for sustainable, social development. Nearly 100 countries have adopted ISO 26000 as a National Standard.

The standard shows examples of social responsibility that companies can use as a guide, regardless of their size, industry or location.

ISO 26000 is not a certification, as is the case with other ISO standards. More than 500 experts from various fields, such as NGOs, trade unions, government representatives and consumer groups worldwide, were involved in drawing up the standard.

What does the ISO 26000 standard include?

The standard is divided into different categories, all of which have an impact on a company’s social responsibility. The breakdown is as follows:

  • Organisational governance
  • Environment
  • Human rights
  • Labour practices
  • Fair operating practices
  • Consumer issues
  • Community involvement and development

Each topic is introduced within the standard and an overview is given of the action areas within the respective topic. Afterwards, the action areas are addressed individually, for example ‘anti-corruption’ and ‘fair competition’ under the topic ‘fair operating practices’. This means the issue of compliance is also taken into account.

One part that the standard particularly emphasises are core recommendations. These are intended to make it clear straight away which criteria are most important in an action area and what companies should focus on in particular. An example of one of these core recommendations is the ‘use of recycled materials’.

The action areas include detailed regulations that have a direct influence on the topic in question. These include, for example, laws that affect the individual points in an action area. In addition, ISO 26000 lists further standards that specify the respective action areas. These standards illuminate partial aspects in detail and sometimes also enable companies to obtain certification in a specific aspect. These include, for example, ISO 45001 for occupational health and safety or ISO 14001 for the development and expansion of an environmental management system.

Moreover, the standard lists common management and audit systems with which companies can determine and change their individual status in an action area. In addition to mechanisms that contribute to the management and control of social responsibility, it also covers value orientation, thought patterns and behaviours.

This enables companies to target the areas of action where there’s an acute need and to integrate measures and processes step by step into their corporate management.

Summary of ISO 26000

In practice, companies often use a combination of different certifications in the area of corporate responsibility to make their social commitment visible and to determine it according to defined standards. This is where the ISO 26000 standard comes in. Although it does not enable certification, it’s increasingly used by companies as an important foundation, for example, in corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports.

ISO 26000 provides companies that want to use an internationally recognised standard for their social efforts and sustainability activities with a guide that covers the essential aspects of corporate social responsibility.

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