Oxebridge Quality Resources International is submitting a formal complaint against the ANSI US Technical Advisory Group to TC 176, responsible for development of the ISO 9000 family of standards. The complaint is being filed with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice, and alleges criminal violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The Sherman Act prohibits companies from joining together to monopolize an industry and limit interstate trade through suppression of competition. The Oxebridge complaint alleges that the US TAG leadership intentionally works to maximize opportunities to provide training and consulting services by its leaders, while taking steps to limit the ability of non-TAG consulting firms from doing the same. The complaint also alleges the US TAG leadership abused its position and authority by utilizing official offices and equipment in order to conduct activities designed to benefit the private consulting firms of key TAG leaders, and to engage in public defamation of competing consultants.
Oxebridge is calling on any other US-based consulting firm to contact it, if they feel they were treated in a similar manner by the US TAG or any other ANSI function.
In 2013, Oxebridge founder Christopher Paris launched a speaking tour on the subject of ISO 9001 “risk based thinking.” In November 2014, the tour was to conclude with a speech in front of the New York City chapter of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) at Fordham University. The organizers reported to Mr. Paris that they received a phone call from the ASQ headquarters in Milwaukee warning them about the event, indicating Mr. Paris should be replaced with an “approved” speaker on the subject, including either Ms. Lorri Hunt or Mr. Paul Palmes. Both Hunt and Palmes hold positions of leadership in the US TAG, and both operate private consulting firms that compete with Oxebridge. Both Hunt and Palmes have published books on the subjects, referencing their TAG leadership roles in order to publicize the books.
The ASQ NY chapter then received an email dated October 17th from ASQ’s Jennifer Admussen, writing on behalf of the “leadership of TAG 176.” In the email, Ms. Admussen implied Mr. Paris’ credentials were dubious, by claiming “[Paris] was a member back in 2004-2005 but hasn’t been a member since that time.” Ms. Admussen also wrote that “the leadership of TAG 176 wanted to let you know that he does not represent TAG 176 or the views of the TAG.”
The full email was as follows:
I’m following up on my phone call from this afternoon. I work with the US Technical Advisory Group (TAG) 176 members who are working on the revision of ISO 9001. We have about 160 members across the US who vote on the revisions, provide comments, and attend national and international meetings related to the revision.
The topic for your December section meeting is the revision of ISO 9001 and the speaker is Christopher Paris. His bio mentions that he is a former member of TAG 176. He was a member back in 2004-2005 but hasn’t been a member since that time. The leadership of TAG 176 wanted to let you know that he does not represent TAG 176 or the views of the TAG.
As we get closer to the expected publication date (September 2015) and you have any questions related to the revision or are looking for a speaker who is a TAG member, you can feel free to contact me. We also have a good amount of information (including a member meeting kit) posted at:
Thanks for taking my call today,
The link provided by Ms. Admussen includes materials by US TAG leaders and consultant members, including Lorri Hunt (Lorri Hunt & Associates), Paul Palmes (PC Auditing), R. Dan Reid (Omnex), Jack West (Silver Fox Advisors), Charles Cianfrani (Arbor Group Quality Consulting ResCare), Debra Matthews Hay Hampton (Cornerstone Consulting) and Mark Ames (AQS Performance).
In its FTC complaint, Oxebridge alleges that the action amounts to abuse of power by the US TAG leadership, which stood to gain further market dominance by replacing Mr. Paris at the high-profile event. The complaint also alleges the email sent by Ms. Admussen was defamatory in that it falsely summarized his US TAG participation, and falsely implied that Mr. Paris was representing himself as a representative of the TAG. At no point did Mr. Paris claim to be a member of the US TAG, nor to represent their viewpoint. The ASQ email prompted the event host to make two separate announcements to the attendees that Mr. Paris was not an official US TAG representative, thus injecting needless controversy into the proceedings, and damaging Mr. Paris’ credibility.
Later, in August 2015, Oxebridge sent an email to the membership of the US TAG presenting a position that requested the TAG to vote “no” on the draft of ISO 9001:2015. In response, the US TAG leadership again utilized its ASQ administrator to send an email to the members indirectly defaming Oxebridge by claiming the email was “spam,” thus implying Mr. Paris was guilty of a criminal act. The email also attempted to shield the identity of official US representatives by claiming their information was “confidential.”
This e-mail is being sent to all TAG 176 members to remind you that it is not appropriate to share TAG member email addresses and TAG information. We post member and TAG/TC information on a secure site in order to maintain confidentiality. TAG information is typically sent out through ASQ and we do not condone spam email of any kind.
All attempts to discuss the issues with Ms. Admussen have failed, as she has refused to respond to either phone calls and emails sent to her office.
These incidents were not isolated, but part of a pattern of actions by the US TAG leadership dating back years.
In 2013, Oxebridge submitted a formal request for interpretation on a minor issue related to ISO 9001, sending it to the general secretary of ISO. The secretary indicated that such “RFI’s” must be sent to the national member body, the US TAG, since Mr. Paris was in the US. The RFI was forwarded to the US TAG leadership and processed over a period of eight months. Later, in February 2014, it was discovered that the US TAG leadership attempted to have the RFI thrown out entirely, writing to the ISO secretariat:
The leadership of TAG 176 recommend a vote to Abstain. They write: “The question is not stated in a way that can be definitively answered with a yes or no. The words are very difficult to read and understand. For this reason, we believe the question should not have been considered for the ballot.
The Oxebridge complaint alleges this action was done out of spite, and in an attempt to prevent Oxebridge from establishing itself as a stakeholder capable of obtaining an official interpretation from ISO.
Threats of Litigation
Oxebridge has been the subject of a number of lawsuit threats and court actions, all of which have been thrown out prior to trial. One was launched by US TAG 176 member Allen Gluck alleging “libel and interference of economic relations,” in retaliation for reporting done against Gluck’s unaccredited G31000 risk management training firm.
The other was launched by ISO itself, but prompted by a TAG 262 Secretary (see below), alleging trademark infringement. Oxebridge is currently embroiled in a separate defamation suit, as plaintiff, which includes evidence of at least one former TAG member openly defaming Christopher Paris, and calling on potential clients to avoid hiring Oxebridge.
Taken collectively, the cases begin to show a pattern of harassment on the part of the ANSI TAGs.
Recently, in September 2015, Ms. Hunt and Mr. Palmes gave a public webinar sponsored by ISO, in order to promote the upcoming ISO 9001:2015 standard. Mr. Paris joined the webinar as a viewer, and submitted a question to the moderator via the Google Hangouts interface asking about the dominance of consultants within the US TAG. Immediately Mr Paris found his feed had been cut, and was forced to view the rest of the presentation by use of an anonymous IP proxy. Again, the FTC complaint alleges, the US TAG leadership had taken action to further alienate Mr. Paris from engaging as a stakeholder in the profession.
The FTC complaint will also rely on evidence that shows the US TAG overwhelming dominates the publishing space regarding content related to quality management system standards. A recent study found that every major US quality publication relies nearly entirely on articles submitted by US TAG members or those “friendly” to the TAG, thus limiting the ability of others to publish their views and market their services. This claim is included only to provide context, as it may not rise to a Sherman Act violation in and of itself, but it does point to an industry-wide dominance by the TAG leaders, in collusion with trade publication editors.
TAG 262 Involvement
Oxebridge is mulling over whether to include alleged misconduct by the US TAG to TC 262 on risk management. In July 2014, Mr. Paris requested to join the US TAG, and instead received an angry phone call from official TAG Secretary Tim Fisher, who accused Mr. Paris of international copyright violation and theft of intellectual property. Without evidence, Mr. Fisher accused Mr. Paris of having obtained a draft copy of ISO 31000 illegally, and threatened to have both ANSI and ISO sue Mr. Paris for criminal theft. In fact, the draft was obtained through legal means, by way of an official TC 262 member who had requested help in formulating their nation’s official opinions on the draft. ISO rules allow drafts to be shared among industry professionals for such purposes.
The incident was reported to US TAG 262 Chair Dorothy Gjerdrum, who declined to take action. Shortly thereafter, Oxebridge was threatened with legal action by the Wall Street law firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn. The threat claimed that Oxebridge had violated ISO copyright by illegally “discussing” ISO 31000 without permission, and for using a single sentence of the standard in a news report. The lawsuit threat was dropped by ISO after an aggressive response by Oxebridge which warned ISO that it could not claim copyright protection over discussions. Oxebridge also warned that future frivolous lawsuit threats would result in a lawsuit launched by Oxebridge on the grounds of trademark bullying.
If the complaint does include the TAG 262 and Fisher allegations, it may have to be filed against ANSI, which manages both TAGs. ANSI declined to take any action against TAG 262 in the matter.
Reaction to Criticism
Oxebridge alleges that the US TAG leadership is frustrated over the reporting and op-ed pieces published by Oxebridge, and engages in these actions for reasons of spite, and to prevent Oxebridge from having equal access to the consulting market.
Oxebridge had previously requested the TC 176 Secretariat, as represented by Andy Kwong of the Canadian Standards Association, to investigate the US TAG for potential violations. Mr. Kwong claimed that ISO has no authority over its members, and deferred instead to ANSI, which never provided a response. No actions by ISO or ANSI have been taken, thus prompting the FTC filing.
The dominance by consultants is troubling as to the impact on ISO 9001 content. The US TAG was found to have called a draft of the new ISO 9001:2015 “the biggest boon for consultants ever.” The TAG later voted to approve the draft.
If found in violation, the US TAG could be sanctioned or disbanded, and investigated for criminal misconduct. It is not clear how much of the fallout would then impact on ANSI and its president, Joe Bhatia. Mr. Bhatia testified before the US House Committee on Space, Science and Technology in 2012, boasting of ANSI’s inclusive policies:
One of the core principles of ANSI – and the standards community at large – is that of inclusion; that those who have an interest in an issue should be at the table when standards are developed. That includes businesses, consumers, government, academia, industry associations, and companies of all sizes.
Recently, multiple consultants from the US TAG have attempted to refuse input from Oxebridge, in violation of ANSI rules and WTO principles. Such actions, Oxebridge alleges, contribute to the closed-club mentality of the US TAG’s “approved” consultants.
Mr. Paris is working to testify before the same committee on the failings of ANSI and its lack of control over the various TAGs and accreditation body ANAB.
Oxebridge emphasizes that the complaint only alleges misconduct and violations at this time, and does not claim as fact that the acts taken are criminal. The FTC and Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice will ultimately provide their ruling. The allegations made in the complaint are protected as “absolute and/or qualified privileges” and not defamatory, as they are necessary to be made in order to present the official complaint.