UPDATED; see below.

If you want to talk to a real person at the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), or even drop by their office, you’re going to find that difficult. They’ve scrubbed all evidence of any people who might be involved with the organization, and have hidden their physical location as well. In fact, the website now closely mimics that of the unaccredited certificate mills that plague the IAF, in that they often hide their identities and addresses, too. Yes, the IAF is adopting the methods of the very companies it is established to fight against.

In case you’ve forgotten, the IAF oversees the entire world’s ISO certification scheme, sitting atop the pyramid that is constructed of Accreditation Bodies (such as ANAB and UKAS), and then a base of Certification Bodies (CBs) such as BSI, Intertek, Bureau Veritas and others. The purpose of the IAF is to ensure that certificates issued by the CBs, and accreditations issued by the ABs, are valid, trustworthy and free from conflicts of interest. The motto of the IAF is, “Certified Once, Accepted Everywhere.”  Apparently, “everywhere” doesn’t mean the IAF’s actual offices, since something can’t be accepted in a place that doesn’t exist.

The IAF itself has been mired in conflicts of interest. For many, many years it was largely managed day-to-day by Chairman Randy Dougherty, who was simultaneously a VP from ANAB. If that sounds like a conflict of interest, your hearing is perfect. Dougherty is said to have retired from ANAB (that hasn’t been confirmed), but he still plays a role at IAF. In the past, his roles were clear because they were frequently mentioned in industry press, and there was no attempt to hide his activities; he appeared on panels and committees for the IAF, ANAB, ASQ, CASCO, TC 176, IAAR, ILAC and more, simultaneously yanking out his IAF and ANAB credentials at every turn. There is no single individual on the planet that has had more to do with the ISO certification scheme — and it’s conflicts of interest — than Randy Dougherty.  Recently, however, Dougherty began disappearing from both personal appearances and news articles; that this came after a phone call I had with him, in which I told him I was pressing to have the IAF scheme investigated by US regulators. One presumes this timing was a coincidence. One presumes.

But the dual role of an ANAB VP acting as IAF Chair was always a conflict of interest, on full display by an organization whose sole purpose was to manage conflicts of interest. It’s like letting alcoholics run the open bar at a wedding; one shouldn’t be surprised at the outcome.

Now, however, Dougherty’s name appears nowhere, except in old, buried press snippets that still linger on the IAF site. Also absent is the fact that Dougherty’s role as IAF Chair was taken over China’s Xiao Jianhua, who had previously held a Vice-Chair position. Xiao is, apparently, “He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

Beyond that, however, the IAF has quietly scrubbed all mentions of any humans, anywhere. There’s also no physical address shown, and not even a post office box. There’s no phone number. There are no email addresses, those having been replaced by a generic web form that masks the IAF email recipient. In short, there is no means by which you could tell whether the IAF is a legitimate, serious organization, or a website created to promote a fictional company as some Marvel movie Easter egg. Seriously, go look; you cannot know if the IAF is real or not from its own website.

It wasn’t always like this. Using the Wayback Machine, we can see that past iterations of the IAF website openly discussed its officers, including Randy Dougherty, but also Norbert Borzek and Thomas Facklam. In 2015, the IAF even had an interview with Dougherty translated into Spanish.

When scanning over more recent news entries, it’s clear that IAF has imposed some silent policy against mentioning individuals involved in its operations at all, now.

If you dig, you can find a few names. Deep inside the PDF files of IAF Resolutions, you will see that Xiao remains Chair, with Emanuele Riva (from Italy’s ACCREDIA) acting as Vice-Chair, and Cisco’s Sheronda Jeffries acting in a Director capacity. (Jeffries is seen as Dougherty’s rising star replacement, although has yet to take a position at ANAB; I predict that’s coming, however; she seems deadset on repeating all of Dougherty’s mistakes, and throwing the entire world’s trade industries into the bin in order to promote her personal brand.) But none of these references come with any way to contact the individuals.

Tracking the IAF’s actual location is impossible; it’s likely it doesn’t actually have one, which raises all sorts of questions on taxes, business filings, legal liability and court jurisdiction, should someone sue them. The website is managed by an Australian design firm, but the organization itself is registered in Delaware, presumably for the tax protections that state offers.  The website uses a Swedish country code top-level domain (“iaf.nu”), but an Australian web hosting company. The group’s IRS tax filings were filed, by Dougherty personally, using his office address at ANAB in Milwaukee, right down ANAB’s exact office number.

Keep in mind, the IAF is supposed to exist as the last level of authority over the scheme, and if you get nowhere with your complaints to your CB and AB, you are supposed to file a complaint against them with the IAF, who oversees such things. Without any means of contacting them, how exactly would you file a complaint? The answer is “you wouldn’t.”

Those same tax filings show the bulk of the revenue being given to IAF Secretary Elva Nilsen, who is listed as a consultant under her company name EJN Consulting; Nilsen was paid out a whopping 48% of IAF’s revenue in 2015, making her the single point of revenue collection for the entire ISO certification scheme. Meanwhile, “EJN Consulting” has no website, and no actual business presence; it appears to be a company set up explicitly to accept IAF checks. Other than the generic “secretary@iaf.nu” email address — which you’d have to know, since it’s not mentioned on the IAF website —  there is no way to contact Nilsen. The IAF site has also stripped any mention that Nilsen is the IAF Secretary, probably after Oxebridge’s reporting on her finances. Nilsen formerly worked for SCC, the Canadian accreditation body, and it’s not clear at all where she works now, other than for IAF. Nilsen has stripped all evidence of any employment from her LinkedIn profile, which now merely claims she is a “Senior Director” in Ottawa; not a single employer is mentioned at all. Nilsen nabbed the Twitter handle @IAFSecretary, but then only tweeted once in 2014, in a clumsy attempt at a DM to an Indian management coach (and Tarot card reader!) named Aneeta Madhok. Yes, this rabbit hole gets weird, fast.

In a bizarre find, a 2015 slide deck on the IAF by TC 176 consultant Baskar Kotte showed that at that time Dougherty was IAF Chair, with Xiao as Vice-Chair and Nilsen as Secretary. The slide features a graphic of the Chinese communist flag laid over the silhouette of the United States, something I attribute to a poor sense of graphic design on the part of Kotte. A Freudian slip, to be sure.

More and more it appears that the IAF is a company set up for the sole purpose of collecting funds from Accreditation Bodies, of which half is then distributed to Nilsen, and to provide cover to ABs and CBs when they are found to have violated accreditation rules. What is clear from the evidence to date that IAF does not exist to “ensure that its accreditation body members only accredit bodies that are competent to do the work they undertake and are not subject to conflicts of interest.”

For an organization that holds such a critical role in the world’s ISO certification scheme — remember, companies gain access to government contracts, and are allowed to build airplanes, cars and medical implants, all on the basis of ISO certifications granted to them under the IAF umbrella — it’s shocking that the IAF should be so wholly unaccountable. The sheer amount of effort put into hiding the organization’s identity is huge, and it begs the question: “what are they hiding?”

Consider this recent nugget: the IAF published a press release claiming, without any evidence, that “93%” of ISO 9001:2008 user organizations have upgraded to the new 2015 version of the standard.  By all accounts, using the official ISO Survey data itself, this is nothing but an exaggeration at best, an outright falsity at worst. Naturally, no one at IAF will answer any questions about where they got their data, nevermind publishing it. Nilsen has refused to connect on LinkedIn, and won’t answer requests for clarifications sent to the “secretary@iaf.nu” email address. By hiding their identity, the IAF can publish whatever fictions it wants, relying on its reputation and logo to make them “feel” factual, even when they are wholly fabricated. It answers to no one.

It is only because of obscurity and the complexity of the labyrinthine ISO certification scheme that they have not been investigated by regulators yet. But an end to that mystery may be coming soon, as the walls close in on Nilsen, Dougherty and the IAF. Whatever damage to the economy — and risks to public safety — the various IAF conflicts of interest may have wrought will not be subject to a statute of limitations, and eventually investigators will be within their rights to find out what IAF knew and when they knew it.

First, of course, investigators will have to find the IAF office. I suggest starting with a certain basement in Ottawa.

UPDATE 26 December 2018: ISO expert and reader Anthony Mason found some additional information on IAF and helped flesh this out further. In earlier days, the IAF address and contact information was widely disseminated, and appears on multiple older IAF documents.

In a 2003 document published jointly by the IAF, IEC and ILAC, entitled “IECEE-ILAC-IAF Guidance for the Conduct of Unified Assessments in the Electrotechnical Sector,” all three organizations had their addresses listed. That document listed the following contact information for IAF:

The IAF Secretariat
PO Box 1811 Chelsea, QC CANADA J9B 1A1
Phone. +1 (613) 454-8159 Email: secretary@iaf.nu

That PO box resolves to a tiny post office in Chelsea where, presumably, Ms. Nilsen physically picked up her mail. This means, therefore, she likely resides there, and that the IAF has no physical office in Chelsea. In fact, it appears that IAF has never had a physical office anywhere, ever.

A July 2014 document entitled “(Draft) Transition Planning Guidance for ISO 9001:2015,” published solely by the IAF, stripped out the physical address entirely, leaving only the phone number and generic “secretary@iaf.nu” address intact.

More interesting still, however, was a Steering Committee website which listed Elva Nilsen as the IAF Secretary, again from 2003, but where she used a personal email address as the official contact point. That email address was for the domain ljd-tech.com, operated by Laurie Davis, former VP for Nortel. Davis is, or was, the husband of Nilsen, and the address was likely used before the “secretary@iaf.nu” address was set up.

Going even further back, in 2000 the IAF website clearly listed its address at the time, as being in Australia:

That address belonged to an office in a commercial building, at least: the Capital Tower, in Canberra Australia. Matthews was later succeeded by John Owen as IAF Secretary, and then by Nilsen; Nilsen, however, had been active with IAF throughout that period, however.

This means we know the following: the IAF now utilizes an Australian web host, a Swiss domain name and email address, is operated largely out of a person’s private home in Canada, filed its taxes using an address in Wisconsin, and registered its business in Delaware. All of this is hidden on the IAF website, unless you do a lot of digging. This was not the case in prior years, when the organization’s address, officers, email and phone number were all clearly published for all to see. Something has dramatically changed under Nilsen’s tenure.

Not exactly a model of trust, confidence or transparency.

 

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    About Christopher Paris

    Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 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.