The International Accreditation Forum (IAF) has released a new statement on the war in Ukraine, updating a prior statement that was roundly criticized for attempting to placate Russia. After an aggressive campaign by Oxebridge and others, which highlighted IAF’s responsibility to comply with both US and international laws, the IAF has relented and announced it will uphold sanctions and eject any accreditation bodies who fail to do likewise.
The IAF is a US company, registered in Delaware, and thus subject to both US and international laws. The IAF receives money from sanctioned companies, such as Gazprom, albeit indirectly: companies like Gazprom pay accredited certification bodies for ISO certificates, with a portion of those funds going to the IAF through the associated member accreditation body. Oxebridge filed an official complaint with the US Dept. of Justice alleging that the IAF is in violation of US “OFAC” regulations against such practices, and is allowing itself to be used for money laundering in support of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
The new IAF statement reads as follows:
An IAF member shall comply with applicable laws and regulations both domestic and international, and all IAF members shall act honestly, in good faith and in the best interests of IAF, not engaging in conduct likely to bring discredit upon IAF (IAF Code of Conduct – IAF PL 1:2009, Issue 2)
Accordingly, IAF shall not work with any entity or individual covered by national, international or U.S. sanctions (i.e. SDN listed), including entities or individuals identified as, related to, or affiliated with entities covered by these sanctions (hereinafter “sanctioned entity”).
Therefore, the IAF Board requested IAF to notify all members that national, international and U.S. sanctions shall not be violated by IAF or IAF Members.
If an IAF member identifies as a sanctioned entity, or if sanctions are violated by an IAF Member (e.g. member continues to offer accreditation services to a sanctioned entity or an IAF AB member’s accredited CAB offers (new or existing) accredited services to a sanctioned entity or to an entity with products subject to an import ban), IAF is required to take action, including suspension or withdrawal of the IAF membership.
If IAF membership is suspended, the member will not be allowed to attend any IAF meetings, to vote or comment on IAF documents, or to access the restricted area of the IAF website. Any applications in process under the MLA from the member will be placed on hold for the duration of the suspension.
With this notification, the IAF Board is mitigating risk of IAF being implicated or discredited. Not only are there severe consequences for violating these laws, but the IAF Board does not want IAF brought into disrepute or have its reputation and integrity brought into question.
This statement will come into effect as of 13 May 2022.
A Product of Conflict
The new statement took weeks to produce, as conflicts between IAF members and the organization’s executive board were hashed out. Previously, IAF Chair Emanuele Riva had dismissed international laws entirely, taking the bizarre position that IAF’s internal policies somehow trumped them. It is not clear if the IAF since discussed its legal liability with an attorney, but the new statement appears to take steps to ensure the IAF is not found in violation of laws.
The IAF continues to comply with Russian demands, however, in not referring to the Ukraine invasion as a “war” or “invasion,” but as a “situation.”
Major accreditation bodies now face ejection from the IAF, including UKAS, Akkreditierung Austria, and ANAB, all of whom have allowed their accreditation marks to be used by sanctioned companies. Quality Austria, which is accredited by Akkreditierung Austria, has the most to lose, as it holds the largest number of Russian certificates, and has formed official partnerships with Rostec, a Russian military conglomerate that is named in multiple sanctions. To date, the two Austrian bodies have steadfastly refused to comply with international laws, and have continued to do business with Rostec and other Russian firms.
In some cases, these sanctions have been in place since 2016, after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, but were ignored. The high-profile invasion of Ukraine made continued violation of the sanctions increasingly risky for IAF and the accreditation bodies, however.
UKAS is also under pressure from its home government, as the UK has announced a full ban on services to all of Russia, specifically calling out “management consulting.” To date, UKAS has not taken a formal position against bodies selling ISO certifications in Russia, and instead demanded its certification bodies manage the issue themselves. UKAS’ chief executive Matt Gantley has so far refused to comply with a number of international laws, and continues to allow UKAS logos in support of companies found to have committed humanitarian abuses, such as forced labor.
ILAC in the Crosshairs
The updated IAF position now puts pressure on the laboratory accreditation oversight body ILAC to do the same. To date, ILAC has refused to issue any statement against Russia, and continues to allow laboratory accreditations in that country. Many of the ILAC-minted laboratory certificates are used by firms manufacturing or testing the military hardware used against Ukraine.
Behind the scenes, ILAC claimed it could not take any action because lawyers had advised it that doing so may contradict its own members’ directives. ILAC specifically alleged that its compliance was tied up by IAF regional groups like APAC, which has remained silent on Russia. Those regional groups are now bound by the new IAF statement, making silence by APAC and others a moot point. This, then, should force ILAC’s hand, and require them to comply.
At the same time, the IAF and ILAC are finalizing a merger that will take place next year. ILAC is therefore in no position to contradict the new IAF position.
Enforcement May Trigger Defection
The situation has highlighted the fragile nature of the IAF, and revealed how its promises and multilateral agreements have been legally unenforceable for decades. The next test will be whether the IAF has the will to enforce its new directive. The IAF only exists because of payments made by the accreditation bodies, and the loss of just one would directly impact its annual revenue, and ability to pay its management. The Canadian consultant Elva Nilsen receives over $500,000 per year in salary payments through her consulting firm EJN Consulting, and would see a reduction in that pay if any AB was ejected.
In reality, membership in the IAF brings little to the table for accreditation bodies. The scheme does provide some protections, as the IAF enthusiastically defends its members when they are found to have violated accreditation rules or laws, but this benefit may be outweighed by the IAF’s newfound demands. As a result, the IAF may find itself facing mass defections, as accreditation bodies realize two factors: first, investment in the IAF bears little reward, and second, the growth of the non-IAF “accreditation mill” industry seems to debunk the need for IAF membership entirely.
The IAF has largely failed in convincing the public of the need for IAF-matrixed accreditation, with unaccredited or self-accredited “mills” taking more and more market share.
The IAF was launched in the late 1990’s by John Owen, a retired executive from within the certification industry, largely as a make-work project for himself to enjoy post-retirement. It was intended to compete with a similar program operated by ISO itself, called “QSAR,” ISO was unable to get QSAR off the ground, and Owen was able to attract the support of bodies like UKAS and ANAB because his scheme allowed the bodies to police themselves, with no higher oversight. The QSAR program collapsed, leaving IAF in its place.
Owen operated the IAF out of his home until his retirement when he handed the group over to Nilsen.
For years, the rotating Chair position was held by China, which still holds powerful sway over the IAF. The current Chair, Riva, is from Italy.
For its part, ISO continues to refuse to honor sanctions, and continues selling standards in Russia. It previously announced that it will continue to allow Russia to participate in standards development activities including, ironically, one committee for military standards.