Human capital, international standards of:




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The drive for progress is a central underlying tenet of the development of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDG), and any form of progress will involve resources, structures and protocols. Yet it is also recognised that all of these are necessarily driven through human resources, or more generally expressed, people/human beings, thus, it is important to focus attention on the human dimensions that are ultimately the driver of initiatives such as the UN-SDG. The establishment of national and international standards can play an important role in this and constitute mappings and protocols which seek to span, encompass and codify recommended conditions, practice, and processes in relation to a given product, domain, or phenomenon (Stokes et al, 2016). The process of their drafting almost invariably involves consultation with a wide array of stakeholders and the resultant documents provide employees, managers, directors, and policy makers with guidelines which inform and work as a guide to ‘good practice’ (Crawford-Lee and Wall, 2018, forthcoming). For instance, the International Standards Organization (ISO) (2009: p3) - the internationally recognised body responsible for liaising and standardising work on standards with national bodies - describes a standard in the following way:

Technically credible as [the] standards represent the sum of knowledge of a broad pool of international expertise and stakeholders; Fulfil stakeholder needs as the… standards development process is based on international input and consensus; Facilitate the development of uniform requirements as the… standards development process is built on participation by its national member institutes from all regions of the world; Promote efficiencies when the same standards are implemented across markets, sectors, and/or jurisdictions; Support regulatory compliance when the standards are used to meet market and regulatory needs; Enhance investor confidence because the standards can be used for conformity assessment such as by audit, inspection or certification.

In the case of the UN-SDGs, for example, there are already a wide range of standards in relation to, by way of illustration: ergonomics, environmental management, managing sustainable development in communities, social responsibility, human resources, and managing the improvement of wellbeing in organisations. As such, standards explicitly direct how a vast range of organisations and governments should manage their people and their health and wellbeing. Indeed, the intentionality of international standards relates in a broad sense to wider scale governance, to support The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement. Specifically, standards: “create market incentives for actors to follow internationally accepted practices by applying competitive pressure… [and] they can enable greater transparency and competition in public procurement and provide essential requirements for industry via their referencing into regulations and laws” (ISO 2015: p 6). Similarly, the development of international standards has also been likened to: “good regulatory practice and good public governance” all of which promote “openness, transparency, effectiveness, global relevance, consensus, and input from expert opinion, with a key criterion for both being that the policy/standard responds to a verified need” (ISO 2015: p 6). Through such status, standards can shape organisational practice directly, through national representative standards bodies, such as the British Standards Institute (BSI) in the case of the United Kingdom and/or through the curricula of vocational education and training establishments (Su et al, 2015). In a recent UK report, for example, it was claimed that standards contributed £8.2 billion to the UK economy, 37.4% to UK productivity growth, 28.4% of annual UK GDP growth (£8.2 billion), and £6.1 billion of additional UK exports (BSI 2015). Standards, therefore, are devices which can play an important role in shaping the health and wellbeing of individuals, organisations, and their wider communities. This chapter reviews the development of the most contemporary standards which codify human capital and critiques some of the ongoing issues and dynamics of implementing such global standards. It is structured as follows. First, it outlines and describes some of the contemporary international standards that have codified human capital, outlining some of the dimensions and assumptions about humans, how they should interact in organizational settings, and about health and wellbeing which are embedded within the standards. Second, it then provides a case study of the development of the most recent human capital standard which highlights some of the inherent dilemmas, tensions, and issues in delivering the ambitions of an international standard. It concludes with a discussion of the limitation of standards and the future directions of this field in terms of research and practice.


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Standardisation, Management Systems


Stokes, P. and Wall, T. (2018) Human Capital, International Standards. In: Filho, W. (2018) Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Good Health and Well-Being, London, Springer.


Research Institute

Centre for Enterprise and Innovation (CEI)