Sustainable development is frequently an object of standardization, and over 100 000 organizations hold ISO 14001 certificates proving they have legitimate environmental management systems. Guidelines for social responsibility are now the object of standardization, resulting in the upcoming ISO 26000 standard. This paper examines the rationale behind developing ISO 26000, highlighting the tendency to decouple complex CSR issues in the organizational context. This is relevant to current problems of poor working conditions, weak regulatory compliance, and corruption often encountered in the production context in low-income countries. In addition, existing codes of conduct are frequently decoupled from actual organizational performance. We highlight how CSR standardization risks isolating complex and contested social issues, more radical attempts at change conflicting with striving for legitimacy. Like the decontexualizing tendency proceeding from the standardized treatment of complex sustainable development issues in organizations, CSR issues also risk becoming decontextualized with the application of standardized approaches such as the ISO 26000 standard. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.