I’m reading through reams of legal filings in the Tsamota v. ANAB lawsuit, and it’s a treasure trove of nerdy, standards-wonk stuff placed into a courtroom setting. If you recall, Tsamota is suing ANAB for canceling its accreditation application process by invoking a clearly-optional rule that says all such applications should be completed within a year; Tsamota argues ANAB itself caused the delays, and Tsamota did everything it could to get ANAB to schedule audits within the agreed-upon time frames.

Tsamota didn’t do itself any favors by rescheduling audits and switching clients mid-stream, but didn’t violate any ANAB procedures in doing so (to my eye, anyway.) At the same time, ANAB admits it only had two human beings on the entire planet to support the audits for the new accreditation scheme, which helps throw some weight towards Tsamota’s claim that ANAB was just unprepared to handle the workload. It also certainly looks to me that some shady stuff went down, with ANAB apparently rewriting their procedures while the conflict was ongoing, only to be able to cite the revised versions later when it all hit the fan. But a jury, presented with all the evidence, may eventually disagree. It’s not a clear knockout for either party.

(For those following at home, the case files can be downloaded through PACER under case # 2:2017cv00839, through a portal such as this one. Download fees per page apply.)

But, wow, one of the filings by ANAB’s attorney Thomas Barnett is just a jawdropper. For decades ANAB (and its prior company RAB) insisted that its accredited certifications helped companies gain access to international markets. In 1992 John Stratton, then the Chairman of the Operations Council of RAB, wrote a primer on RAB that said (among other things), “RAB accreditation links the United States with an international standards movement in which 42 countries use ISO 9000 as their national standards.” 

The International Accreditation Forum has run multiple articles and PDF downloads boasting about how accredited certifications (by its members, including ANAB) help companies gain access to foreign markets. In a 2012 document called “Why Use An Accredited Certification Body?,” the IAF argued, “Third party management systems certification is a frequently specified requirement to operate in the global marketplace” and put those words right on the cover of the document. It then goes on to insist that IAF accredited certification “is recognized by procurers in domestic and overseas markets” and that it will help companies “gain access to overseas markets since certificates issued by bodies that are accredited by an IAF MLA signatory are recognized and accepted throughout the world.” It’s important to note that at the time the IAF document was published, the IAF Chairman was ANAB’s Vice President, Randy Dougherty; so ANAB can’t now claim ignorance over what IAF was publishing, since it essentially authorized IAF to do so.

Going a bit further, the ANAB website right now makes the following claim about its accreditation mark:

Most important, [ANAB] accreditation assures industry and government decision-makers that accredited organizations are competent and their results can be relied on.

By referencing “government decision-makers,” ANAB certainly implies that this means more than just one’s own local governments, and can easily be interpreted to mean that ANAB accreditation would help companies prove their worth to “decision-makers” in other governments. It doesn’t specifically say “your local government decision-makers.”

Heck, ANAB made an entire video discussing how its accreditation is “recognized internationally.”

So it’s somewhat shocking to read attorney Burnett’s March 29th court filing. Tsamota, which is based out of the UK, had made the claim that it sought out ANAB accreditation specifically, rather than that of ANAB competitor UKAS, in order to gain access to American markets. ANAB’s filings show the company objecting to even minor quibbles, including things it should take on as a compliment. So where Tsamota is saying that it had sought out ANAB specifcially because it thought it could trust its reputation, ANAB decided it would be a good legal tactic to undermine its own reputation in order to score some quick points against Tsamota (referenced in court documents as TCL). Here’s how they responded:

[ANAB] Response: Object that this proposed finding of fact calls for speculation as to whether accreditation from the American accreditation body would have enabled TCL to secure a larger foothold within the American private security market.

If you’re not up on your legalese, this means that ANAB is now arguing against itself, saying that it is only “speculation” as to whether ANAB accreditation can actually help a company gain access to American markets. It’s a stunning reversal not only of the marketing of ANAB and the IAF — which ANAB largely controlled through senior executive positions — but it debunks decades of talking points. ANAB exists nearly solely because it has hoodwinked the planet in believing that its accreditation services will help companies gain access to markets that they wouldn’t ordinarily have without said accreditation. Now, when the adults are looking, they insist that is mere “speculation.”

Here’s the thing, though: ANAB happens to be telling the truth in its filing. It is speculation that ANAB accreditation can do anything (other than ensuring that ANAB gets paid, of course.) ANAB’s clients can screw up in all sorts of ways outside of the control of ANAB, and they often do. That could limit their access to markets for reasons unrelated to ANAB accreditation. But that fact is also something that ANAB and its sycophants at IAF never mention in their marketing. Instead, the drumbeat is that accreditation will do all sorts of amazing things, without any such caveats. As usual, the caveats are only trotted out when someone in authority is looking.

ANAB reveals a sinister cynicism here, too. Essentially, they admit that if you buy into the sales pitches surrounding ISO certifications and accreditation, someone can just come back later and use your stupidity against you in court.

    About Christopher Paris

    Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 25 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001:2015. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.