ISO has released its 32nd annual ISO Survey, providing data on total certificates worldwide for ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and other standards. The latest report includes data as of 2022. Every year, since 2002, Oxebridge has then published its annual analysis of the data, using its own database comprised of ISO Survey data going back to 1993.

This latest ISO Survey suggests ISO 9001 certificates have increased by 17.38%, but that comes with a lot of official ISO disclaimers.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Blame CertSearch: ISO claims the use of data from the IAF CertSearch database — a first for this year — resulted in a spike of reported certificates, especially out of India. Neither ISO nor IAF are addressing the fact that fully-accredited Indian CBs are pumping out fake certs like mad, under the nose of that country’s AB.
  • Better Participation: As they did last year, ISO again claims they magically had better participation from accredited CBs, also resulting in a spike. This implies that the data for the past 27 years has been faulty, which is (again) suspect.
  • China, China, China: ISO is still trusting the fantastical, fictional numbers coming out of China, and really relying on them to boost their marketing claims.
  • New Fakirs: India and South Korea join the ranks of countries with eye-bogglingly large increases, likely due to corrupt IAF member ABs allowing fake certificates to be issued under formal accreditation marks.

One quick reminder. If you rely on Oxebridge’s annual analysis of the ISO Survey or just like the content here, be sure to follow me on LinkedIn, and jump onto our Slack channel for real-time chat.

History

The ISO Survey was originally launched in 1990 as The Mobil Survey, published by Mobil Oil Co. ISO took over the reporting in 1996, and has published the Survey ever since. Originally the surveys were labeled as “cycles,” a naming convention that ISO dropped, but which Oxebridge maintains for nostalgia and consistency. The 2022 data represents the 32nd Cycle by that naming system, therefore.

As mentioned, since 2002 Oxebridge has released a corresponding “ISO Survey Analysis” report which tries to look past ISO’s generic (and often misleading) press release blurbs, to see the real trends behind the data. While ISO has changed its reporting methods over the years — in 2018, for example, ISO stopped reporting prior years’ data entirely — Oxebridge has been carefully collecting the data since 1993, and then merges the data so that it remains consistent. That allows us to have more accurate trend reporting over the full period from 1993 to the present.

Two Data Tracks

Last year, ISO caused a major upheaval in its reporting. To explain a (frankly improbable) surge in supposedly-accredited ISO 9001 certificates, ISO claimed that improved reporting by UKAS, through its CertCheck database, simultaneously improved the data. CertCheck is itself just a clone of IAF’s CertSearch, but last year, ISO did not utilize any actual data from IAF CertSearch. For the 2022 data, both CertSearch and CertCheck are feeding the data.

This claim implies two things: again, that the data over the past decades was faulty, and that UKAS had been misreporting for the same number of years. That’s unlikely, but ISO had firmly hung its hat on that.

For this year’s report, ISO is repeating the same excuse, but shifting the blame from UKAS to IAF. Now, they say, the IAF CertSearch database is responsible for more accurate reporting, and thus a huge spike in certificates. Again — unlikely. And it raises questions on just what, exactly. ISO has been doing with its Surveys for the past 27 years.

As a result, the two latest ISO Surveys (from this year and last) display dramatic increases in certificates that ISO itself admits are not actually due to more companies pursuing certification, but because of improved reporting. They make exceptions for suspicious countries like China and India, which isn’t helping them appear legitimate.

Last year, Oxebridge struggled to maintain some consistency with the data going back to the 1990s. Because we have the full data going back to The Mobil Survey, we were able to crunch the numbers and provide data showing the data from two angles: first, based on “consistent” certification data, which relied on behind-the-scenes data coming out ISO; and second, “inconsistent” data that accepted ISO’s inflated spikes at face value.

This year, ISO itself has adopted this posture (you’re welcome) and is officially providing two reports: one based on data from CBs who participated in prior years’ ISO Surveys, and another — the one with higher totals — allegedly showing data from the increased pool of participating ABs and CBs.

At some point, probably next year, we will just have to report one track — based on the newer “spiked” data — and mark the increase as a result of ISO’s new accounting methods. But it does annoyingly break the historical consistency.

For this year, some of the charts provided below highlight that split. Others are only based on ISO’s new accounting methods, so may show random spikes. In still other cases, we still see declining values despite ISO’s claims of improved participation, which is damning in and of itself.

One note: ISO reports on certified “sites.” Oxebridge historically ignores this data. We only report on certificates. Reporting on “sites” is just a way to artificially inflate the numbers.

World Outlook

The chart below shows the overall trends for ISO 9001 worldwide. The blue line represents the data that excludes CBs who failed to participate in prior years, but suddenly popped up for the 2022 data. The red line shows the full total, including CBs who reported for the first time.

ISO now reports a total of 1,265,216 certificates to ISO 9001. (There’s about a 187,000 certificate difference between the “consistent” and “inconsistent” CB data.) This represents a 17.38% increase over last year’s global total.

Even given this, the increase isn’t all that much. ISO just can’t seem to get very far past the “one million” mark, and at this rate may never reach 2 million. Given the number of organizations that could be pursuing ISO 9001, that is statistical noise.

Here is what the year-to-year changes look like:

I’ve highlighted the two last years, which represent the sudden spikes due, allegedly, to ISO’s improved participation. Comparing that with ISO 9001’s prior high point, in 2004, we still see the standard struggling to build momentum.

Here’s an interesting, but purely editorial, graphic that overlays the person responsible for reporting ISO Survey data with the data itself. I think it’s worth pointing out that under Roger Frost, ISO seemed to have little controversy in its reporting. During that period, I routinely chastised Frost for peppering the annual releases with dubious claims and some bad math aimed at promoting ISO despite the data, but at least he reported the data accurately. Since the takeover of the duties by Laurent Charlet, who was assisted for a short while by Katie Bird, everything has gone to hell.

This also highlights this dramatic increase due to the UKAS CertCheck and IAF CertSearch databases, both of which were created and managed by the Australian company Quality Trade. I want this laid down as a marker, should we one day find out that Quality Trade was the “single point of failure,” and their data was entirely hosed, affecting both databases — and thus the ISO Survey. We don’t know that now, but it’s never good when a single player suddenly pops on the scene and the data all goes wobbly.

China 

For another year running, ISO still credits much of ISO 9001’s success to China, ignoring the fact that their certificate totals are nearly guaranteed to be fake. Recall that the official national AB of that country, CNAS, reports directly to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and is a crucial actor in the party’s “Made in China 2025” and “China Standards 2035” plans, which aim to supplant ISO entirely. They have a vested interest in making it appear that Chinese quality is on the rise, and one way to do that is to falsify its adoption rate of ISO 9001.

For the latest report, China claims to have added over 125,000 (as in a quarter million) ISO 9001 certificates to its totals. That brings its national total to 551,855. As a result, China now allegedly represents 43% of the entire world’s ISO 9001 certificates, up 3% from last year.

That exceeds last year’s (equally fake) claim that they added over 102,000 certificates in 2021.

No one believes this, but ISO is still maintaining a straight face.

Take a look at the data since 2015, when things started wobbling, and then took off like a rocket. That was the same year the CCP announced its “Made in China 2025” plan, and government officials were under orders to make China look more appealing to the world. Coincidence?

Here is what the data looks like if we separate China’s numbers from the rest of the world.

USA

In reviewing the domestic US data, we don’t see a dramatic increase whether we rely on the spiked data or just the older “consistent” data. It’s nearly irrelevant.

The USA now boasts a total of 29,579 certificates, reaching levels it previously had in 2016, but still nowhere near its peak of nearly 45,000 certificates in 2006.

In its official “Explanatory Note” accompanying this year’s data, ISO attributes this to improved US data appearing in the IAF CertSearch database. This doesn’t quite track with reality, since US participation in CertSearch is still nowhere near 100%.

This next chart shows the trend since the 2000 version of ISO 9001, which is still seen as the best version ever released of that standard. The trendline still has flattened, even with the new numbers.

North America

Comparing the US to its North American neighbors, the data appears as follows:

The only interesting point to note here is that since 2014, Mexico surpassed Canada with ISO 9001 certificates, which is surprising since Canada has such an outsized role in the development of ISO 9001.

European Bellwethers

Every year, we report on a few key European nations to gauge how things are going on the continent where ISO 9001 was born; these are Italy, Germany, France, and ISO’s home country of Switzerland. The chart below shows this data, and I’ve added Belarus as a kick.

A few key takeaways:

First, Switzerland — the literal home of ISO — is now losing out to Belarus. Good job, Geneva!

Next, we see no unusual spikes in the Italy data. In prior years, Italy was this strange country that was leading the pack, even though a lot of people were wondering just what Italy manufactured to warrant such high numbers. It was suspected that Italy’s numbers were fake, and then course-corrected in 2017, resulting in that huge drop.

But it’s worth pointing out that Italy remains in the #2 slot of countries with the highest number of certificates.

Finally, the overall picture is that Europe — once the darling home of ISO 9001 — has most definitely lost its interest in the standard.

United Kingdom

For the UK, we do see a spike that could be attributable to improved reporting through the UKAS CertSearch database. More likely, however, we could imagine the dip seen from 2017-2021 might have been the faulty data, and the overall sweep of things is pretty mild.  But the UK is still nowhere near where it was in 2000.

India

Last year I wrote this:

So what of India, which many believe to be the source of a flood of fake certificates? India may be one of the top producers of wholly-unaccredited certs, yes, but those numbers are not polluting the ISO 9001 data, thankfully.

That was a short-lived pipe dream, it seems. This year, the numbers coming out of India are so clearly fake that it’s a surprise that ISO is pretending otherwise. Next to China, only India has more suspect numbers.

This year, India claims to have 61,653 certificates to ISO 9001, up from 36,505 the prior year. That’s an increase of 69% in one year.

ISO claims that this is “due to additional data provided from the IAF CertSearch,” but few will buy that. The problem of fake, drive-by ISO 9001 audits being performed by fully-accredited CBs is a well-known — and well-documented — phenomenon. Even Indians do not trust ISO 9001 certification in that country, but it’s become an expected part of doing business, like buying new letterhead or hanging your sign on the front door.

Until the IAF takes responsibility for the data — and reins in key Indian players like India’s NABCB and the US body IAS — we are likely to keep seeing suspect data coming from that country.

India is single-handedly destroying the credibility of ISO certifications, and no one is doing anything about it. And I mean every ISO certification (not just 9001) in every corner of the globe. At least China’s corruption is constrained to its borders.

Japan

A suspicious spike in data from last year seems to have course-corrected, and the numbers have settled somewhat. Japan now only boasts 38,916 certificates, down from last year’s 40,834.

Middle Eastern Bellwethers

Joining India in the club of “Countries That Produce Accredited, but Totally Fake ISO 9001 Certificates,” are the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. This year’s data shows that the phenomenon is worsening, as the IAF abandons all pretense that it’s supposed to ensure only valid certificates are issued.

ISO claims, again, that the spikes in these are due to improved IAF CertSearch data. And, again, few believe this.

Russia

It’s always fun to look at Russia’s dire state. Yes, that central spike was fake. The latest numbers are likely closer to reality, but participation in data collection is low, since the IAF upset Russia. Russia is moving to a self-accreditation model, whereby the entire country will be one giant certificate mill, because that’s how Putin rolls. In reality, however, the numbers for 2022 likely flatlined since 2021, and the dip seen is just because Russia isn’t reporting things anymore.

The Asian Watchlist

Last year we began tracking five specific Asian countries that are suspected of being producers of fake certificates, despite IAF member accreditation.  This year we see a few spikes that would imply this is still a problem, but Thailand did see an actual drop.

South Korea – A New Corrupt Player Emerges

We have reached the point where we can officially say South Korea is a problem, thanks to what appears to be corrupt practices by KAB, the Korean Accreditation Board.

KAB, as you may know, had launched an aggressive campaign to accredit as many CBs as possible, with many of those being in countries as far away from Korea as you can imagine. KAB is a major player in India and the Middle East, and reports of problems with their certificates have been coming into Oxebridge since about 2021. As a result, last year we started tracking South Korea, and we can see from the chart below that things are much more serious.

It is unlikely that South Korea is suddenly having an “ISO 9001 Renaissance,” but I guess it’s conceivable. The bulk of suspect KAB-accredited certificates seem to be coming out of countries outside of South Korea, not within its borders… and this chart only shows the domestic Korean certs. So this is still a mystery. But if I were the IAF, I would be looking hard at certificates bearing the KAB logo.

Sector Analysis

ISO has finally gotten somewhat consistent with its reporting of ISO 9001 certificates within sectors, a bit of data they had previously been sporadic with. Now we have a good set of years to show trends, which is useful, even if the IAF still struggles to get CBs to properly credit certificates to industry codes. Such sector assignment literally an accreditation requirement, so there’s no good excuse for the fact that over 18% of certificates were assigned to “Sector Unknown.”

The chart below provides the data from 2022, but does remove the “Sector Unknown” pie slice entirely. Click to enlarge.

In comparing changes from the prior year, we see construction as the top-growing field for ISO 9001 certificates. This far outpaces any other industry, and this tracks with my personal experience from people talking to me around the world. IT and engineering services are also industries to watch.

In studying just the sector trends in the USA, we see the following. The only point of value is that it appears the US is losing its ability to track sectors since the main spike was for “Sector Unknown” certifications. I suspect the drop in some sectors just means those certificates landed in that pile instead.

Winners and Losers

The top ten nations with the most certificates as of 2021 break down as follows:

  1. China  – 551,855 certificates
  2. Italy  – 94,216 certificates
  3. India – 61,653 certificates
  4. Germany  – 47,576 certificates
  5. United Kingdom  – 43,765 certificates
  6. Japan – 38,916 certificates
  7. Spain  – 32,059 certificates
  8. USA  – 29,579certificates
  9. South Korea – 27,155 certificates
  10. France  – 21,880 certificates

The big changes since last year are that India has risen dramatically, bumping other nations to take 3rd place, and South Korea has entered the top ten for the first time, pushing Brazil off the list entirely.

Growth rates by nation are not very useful to measure, since tiny countries like Lao or Nepal saw huge rates after adding only a handful of certs. Lao, for example, added only 51 certs, but that represented a 638% growth rate since they only had 8 certificates reported in the prior year.

But looking at total certs added in 2021, the top countries for raw growth are as follows:

  1. China – added 125,130 certificates in 2022
  2. India – added 25,148 certificates in 2022
  3. South Korea – added 12,816 certificates in 2022
  4. Australia – added 4,296
  5. United Kingdom – added 4,083 certificates in 2022
  6. USA – added 4,018 certificates in 2022 certificates in 2022
  7. Brazil – added 2,437 certificates in 2022
  8. Saudi Arabia – added 1,637 certificates in 2022
  9. Italy – added 1,552 certificates in 2022
  10. Taiwan – added 1,381 certificates in 2022

The top ten losers — representing the countries that lost the most certificates — are as follows:

  1. Japan – lost 1,918 certificates
  2. Germany – lost 1,722 certificates
  3. Russia – lost 1,694 certificates
  4. Hungary – lost 1,374 certificates
  5. Romania – lost 1,265 certificates
  6. Poland – lost 1,018 certificates
  7. Greece – lost 778 certificates
  8. Portugal – lost 685 certificates
  9. Thailand – lost 592 certificates
  10. Philippines – lost 399 certificates

Summary

There are two ways to parse this data. Either:

  1. ISO is telling the truth, and for literally decades, it has done a poor job of collecting the ISO Survey data, and only just cracked the case thanks to the use of centralized databases like CertSearch and CertCheck; or
  2. The IAF has lost all control over its member ABs, who are now allowing their accredited CBs to print ISO 9001 certificates like water in key regions — like the Middle East and Asia — and the accredited ISO certification scheme is on track to become a massive, global “certificate mill” scam.

It breaks my heart to say the likelihood that Option # 1 is true is very, very low. Again, my suspicions like with the methods of Quality Trade, the single company behind the databases for both UKAS and IAF, which ISO is now relying on. This is worsened by the fact that nigel Johnston, the head of Quality Trade, has refused to step in to clarify the recent falsehoods published by IAF about his company and CertSearch in the pages of Quality Digest. I don’t think Johnston or Quality Trade can be trusted.

Providing more evidence that Option 2 is likely is the mountain of evidence against the IAF, which shows they consistently work to protect bad-acting ABs and CBs, refusing to process complaints, refusing to de-list ABs that violate their rules, and refusing to enforce ISO 17011. This is compounded by the corrupt actions by the IAF regional body APAC, and its leader Graeme Drake, who has single-handedly worked to expand the global reach of fake ISO certificates by selling APAC memberships to anyone who can pay, regardless of their willingness to adhere to ISO 17011.

When you combine APAC with “sus” bodies like NABCB, KAB, and IAS, you may get exactly the result you see in this data.

Is This the Last ISO Survey?

Last year I said that the 2021 data may be the last ISO Survey. That proved untrue, as you can see. For now, we dodged a bullet.

nigel Johnston and Quality Trade are still pushing to make IAF CertSearch data available through paid plans, however. ISO can still elect to use its influence to get the IAF to release its data — for free — to populate the ISO Survey. Alternatively, however, ISO could elect to honor Quality Trade’s attempts at profiteering and cease the ISO Survey entirely, forcing folks to pay exorbitant fees to analyze data inside CertSearch.

If I had to guess, that option is now much further off than I assumed last year. ISO is still working on ways, as we can see, to “spin” the data by actually using the dubious CertSearch in its explanations. They don’t have a lot to lose by continuing to do so, especially if the IAF has become a massive certificate mill that allows its data to be polluted by anyone with internet access.

So, no… I now think we will see a few more ISO Surveys before they die off.

Here are a few of the prior Oxebridge analyses of previous ISO Surveys:

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