In 2016, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the World Bank signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) which enables the international financial group to push ISO products on at-risk, developing nations as a part of loan repayment conditions. The MoU was recently reaffirmed by both groups in 2018.

The World Bank offers loans to developing nations through its International Bank for Reconstruction and Development efforts, and through the International Development Association (IDA), targeting “countries at risk of debt distress.” The repayment terms of such loans then come with conditions placed on those countries, including deregulation, and privatization of public sector enterprises and utility providers. Those conditions have been flagged as benefiting industrialized and advanced nations, who then gain contracts from the forcibly-privatized enterprises.

With the MoU in place, ISO now stands to benefit from the World Bank forcibly imposing ISO standards on such nations, as a condition of loan repayment. If a developing nation is facing crushing debt, it may find it is forced to incorporate ISO standards into government projects and bid requirements as a condition for obtaining financial assistance.

ISO is a private publishing company which sells books — which it calls “standards” — and as a result, the MoU represents the World Bank effectively becoming another part of ISO’s massive and multi-tentacled marketing operation.

ISO has falsely claimed its standards are developed “by consensus” and through “industry experts” sent by the world’s nations to represent them in delegate-based Technical Committees. In fact, an internal bureaucratic body called the Technical Management Board (TMB) now drafts the majority of the text of ISO management system standards, disallowing ISO member nations and industry experts from doing so. At the same time, ISO has redefined the term “consensus” to roughly mean the opposite.

Nevertheless, ISO continues to reach out to powerful allies in organizations like the World Bank, the United Nations and nations such as China, to increase the reach of its publishing empire. In the late 1990s, the United States issued “OMB Circular A-119” which surrendered US standards development activities to ISO, under the guise that this would save money for taxpayers. Prior to this, US standards were issued for free and published by official government agencies, such as the Department of Defense, whereas ISO standards are now sold for hundreds of dollars each, without US control.

ISO has refused to take action on increasing reports that its standards development activities have become corrupted by private consultants who intentionally make its publications confusing in order to sell “deciphering” services later. ISO has also refused to investigate its role in the increasing number of scandals, disasters and recalls of deadly products found to have been manufactured by “ISO certified” companies, such as Takata, Kobe Steel, PIP, and others.

ISO’s international rules of procedure were designed to comply with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) regulations codified in the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) agreement, which requires it to ensure its standards remain voluntary and developed under consensus. The TBT also requires that developing nations be given special access to standards developing activities, something the ISO’s Technical Management Board has ignored. The TMB is comprised of a fixed set of 15 nations, only one of which is a developing nation. ISO has repeatedly violated the WTO TBT requirements, as well as those of its own procedures but recently the WTO admitted to Oxebridge it had no mechanism to enforce such regulations.


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Why we report on these topics

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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