Oxebridge has filed a complaint with the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against BSI alleging the international ISO 9001 registrar is engaging in false advertising. The ASA develops and enforces advertising rules and codes within the UK to protect consumers from false statements and misleading claims made by advertisers.

The Oxebridge complaint alleges that BSI engages in false advertising of its ISO 9001 certification services by claiming ISO 9001 certification will result in “more efficient ways of working will save time, money and resources; improved operational performance will cut errors and increase profits; motivate and engage staff with more efficient internal processes; win more high value customers with better customer service; broaden business opportunities by demonstrating compliance.” Independent studies have shown these claims to be untrue; see here and here for only a few examples.

BSI was previously cited by the ASA in 1997, when a complaint was filed by UK consultant John Seddon for nearly the exact same allegations. In that complaint, Seddon pointed out BSI’s false claims that ISO 9001 “improves productivity…almost always gives an immediate result in terms of productivity and efficiency, and that means cost reductions…pays for itself…staff morale is better because they understand what is expected of them and each other.” ASA upheld that complaint and found BSI was not truthful in its advertising, writing:

[BSI] provided independent research information, which suggested that the application of ISO 9000 could improve productivity and efficiency, thereby making a company more profitable. The Authority, although accepting that this might be true, understood that it was not almost always true for small companies and asked the advertisers to change the advertisement to avoid the implication that certification would almost always bring about these benefits.

Normally, an advertiser found to be in violation by ASA would be forced to alter its marketing to meet the UK advertising codes, as demanded by ASA. In BSI’s case, however, the opposite appears to have happened: BSI not only ignored the ASA ruling, but over time increased its reliance on hyperbole, false claims or improbable exhortations in order to sell its services.

Other registrars have followed suit, including many within the UK, and ISO itself. The latest BSI complaint will be a test as to whether the UK can rein in such dubious practices.

The Oxebridge complaint has been accepted as valid by ASA and an official investigation is underway.