sure for businesses to do the right thing. But it is very important to remember, cautioned Webb, that if businesses do not make money, they are not going to be able to engage in social responsibility; therefore, wealth creation does remain the main objective for business.
Today’s societal problems necessitate concerted efforts of government, the private sector, and civil society. CSR represents the private-sector contribution to the efforts, but it is not a panacea; there are limitations on governments, intergovernmental legal instruments, to be able to address problems voluntarily. Governments can structure and encourage CSR as a supplement to conventional approaches, and organizations like the ISO can play an important role as a bridge between laws, intergovernmental instruments, community expectations for substantive obligations, and reporting standards. ISO is just one piece of the puzzle, said Webb.
Government encouragement of CSR stems from the understanding that CSR activities can assist governments in meeting societal needs. A country or an industry sector can be negatively or positively affected by individual firms’ behavior. CSR can be a competitive advantage for a country. For example, the United Kingdom approach to CSR represents the most sophisticated model. It has realized the importance of CSR and has taken great effort to institute pension disclosure laws, support ethical trading initiatives, and encourage development of many other related initiatives, including those in the standards area. Among developing countries, Brazil is the CSR leader, using standards to encourage good business behavior.
Webb suggested that ISO could play an important role in lessening industry confusion and increasing acceptance by developing a social responsibility standard. This would be a third-generation standard building on the management system standards that are already in place, and it would be a guidance document, not a specification document; that is, it would not be the subject of certification, but it still could build on existing approaches. Considering that there are more than 600,000 facilities around the world that have been certified to ISO 9001 or ISO 14001, ISO is well placed to develop a standard concerning operationalization of social responsibility ideas, said Webb. ISO seems to represent the most accepted international rule infrastructure. One hundred forty-five countries around the world—the majority of them are developing countries—participate in it. However, an ISO social responsibility standard would be only part of the solution, one piece of a puzzle, cautioned Webb. It would be one more additional element compatible with the existing initiatives and laws, concluded Webb.