The French certification body AB Certification (ABC) has rejected a formal complaint filed against it by Oxebridge, after it was learned they issued an ISO 9001 certificate to a competing certification body.

The matter arose when Oxebridge discovered ABC had granted ISO 9001 certification to the Indian office of certification body Cotecna. That office, located in Mumbai, then issues its own ISO 9001 certifications to clients, under its own ISO 17021-1 accreditation, granted by the Indian accreditation body NABCB.

The ISO 9001 certificate issued by ABC, meanwhile, was accredited by the French accreditation body COFRAC. ABC is accredited under ISO 17021-1, which clearly prohibits the practice of CBs certifying each other.

ABC’s director, Georges Abi Rached, denied the Oxebridge complaint wholesale, citing “scope” as a justification:

AB Certification issued an ISO 9001 certificate to COTECNA INSPECTION S.A. for its inspection activities as stated in the scope on the certificate and not for the certification activities performed in India under NABCB accreditation. On the certificate that you have attached the scope is clearly defined.

Cotecna is a worldwide group of companies that performs several activities and has the possibility to be certified/accredited to different standards with scopes applicable to those activities.

In fact, however, ISO 17021-1 does not allow the use of “scope” as justification for one CB to issue ISO 9001 to another CB. The full text of the ISO 17021-1 clause is silent on the topic of “scope,” and reads as follows:

A certification body shall not certify another certification body for its quality management system.

The purpose of the rule is to prevent conflicts of interest such as those raised by the ABC certification of Cotecna India. That company’s website clearly markets both inspection and QMS certification, and then openly lists both its own ISO 9001 certification, and its accreditation to issue ISO¬† 9001 certificates to others:

While the Cotecna India website claims the ISO 9001 certificate is for the “Geneva Office,” the actual certificate then includes the Mumbai office under the scope of accreditation, suggesting Cotecna understood the appearance of a conflict of interest:

ABC’s director Rached then requested that Oxebridge “withdraw” its reporting on the matter, which Oxebridge denied outright.

Accordingly, you are requested to immediately withdraw your allegation and remove the relevant content on your website.

Mr. Rached did not recuse himself from the matter, which may raise additional problems since his signature appears on the certificate issued to Cotecna. AB Certification’s official complaints procedure would prove whether Mr. Rached violated any rules, but the website’s link to its procedure comes up with a “not found” error. This suggests yet another violation of ISO 17021-1, which requires a certification body to make its complaints procedure available to the public, without request. It is also not clear how COFRAC accredited AB Certification without verifying compliance to the clause requiring publication of the procedure.

An earlier version of AB Certification’s complaints procedure, found via the Internet Archive “Wayback Machine,” does suggest that Mr. Rached should have recused himself, with the matter addressed by someone else.

The Rached interpretation on “scope” would open up a flood of conflicts of interest, further diluting trust in ISO 9001 certifications worldwide. It would allow any ISO 9001 CB to obtain ISO 9001 for itself simply by ensuring it offered some other service at the same time. Oxebridge argues the ISO 17021-1 standard makes no such allowances, and is clear on the matter.

Cotecna has not provided any statement on the issue.

The issue points out the ongoing problems within the ISO certification scheme, as multiple parties signed off on this arrangement, including AB Certification, COFRAC, and NABCB, while the oversight regional bodies of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) also appear to have failed to step in.

The matter has now been escalated to COFRAC for action, with a request that COFRAC work with its Indian counterpart NABCB to decide a course of action.

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Since 2000, Oxebridge has worked to improve ISO and related certification schemes by identifying problems and then proposing solutions. We report on issues affecting standards users because so few other news outlets do. Our belief is that in order to fix the problems in these schemes, we must first understand the nature and breadth of those problems. Our reporting aims to do just that. Elsewhere on the Oxebridge site you will find White Papers and other articles proposing ideas to correct these problems.

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