ISO has begun the process of updating ISO 9001:2015, despite two international, official voting rounds by ISO member nations rejecting the plan. As a result, ISO is in violation of its own procedures, and is putting its profits ahead of its alleged purpose, which is to produce consensus-based standards driven by member needs.

ISO rules require that every 5 years, each standard be reviewed for possible updating to account for changes in technology and other factors. In 2020, ISO asked the member nations to vote on whether to update ISO 9001:2015, and the majority voted to maintain the standard as-is. In a daring move, ISO rejected the first vote, and held a second vote in 2021, after lobbying nations to change their votes. The second vote resulted in the same outcome, and again the decision was to maintain ISO 9001 without any revision.

The vote means that ISO 9001:2015 would not be eligible for another vote on updating until 2027. Assuming a vote at that time resulted in a decision to update the standard, it means a new ISO 9001 version would not appear until at least 2030.

But TC 176 telegraphed its intent to ignore that vote, too, in April of 2021.

Now, in a public press release, ISO TC 176 has officially announced its intention to update the standard anyway, claiming, “there was no single major driver for an early revision; however, the volume of elements, when taken together, suggests the need for one.” This statement dramatically contradicts the official results of the two ISO member votes.

SPOTG Rubber Stamp

ISO formed a “SPOTG” committee to investigate overruling the international vote, and justifying an “early revision” of the standard. Driven by ISO toadies, the eventual SPOTG report rubber-stamped ISO’s executive decision in order to give the appearance that procedures had been followed. In fact, no procedures allow for this radical rejection of member will.

As a result, an updated version of ISO 9001 will likely appear in 2025 or 2026. ISO can fast-track that further, however, using a variety of other non-democratic tricks. To get ISO 9001:2015 published, for example, ISO forced non-English speaking countries to vote on an English language draft, rather than have the document translated before voting.

ISO 9001 is ISO’s flagship standard, and generates the most profit for the publishing company. In addition, the TC 176 committee that authors the standard is overwhelmingly comprised of private consultants who rely on new versions of the standards to drive their consulting practices.

As a result, ISO has now rejected the second vote, and moved ahead with updating the standard over the objections of the world’s nations. this means that under no circumstances can ISO claim that the new version is being developed “by consensus.”

Insisting that it only produces consensus standards is a key factor in ensuring ISO products are received warmly by the World Trade Organization, and not treated as technical barriers to free trade, in violation of WTO TBT regulations. The move puts that position at risk, and raises the possibility that ISO 9001 could be seen as a barrier to trade.

ISO performed a similar stunt with the 2008 edition. For that version, ISO produced an “amendment” to the ISO 9001:2000 edition which featured no new requirements, and only some slight formatting changes. Third-party certification bodies then wrote up ISO 9001 nonconformities for any company who had not purchased the new “2008” version, despite there being no actual changes. Companies that failed to buy copies faced losing their certification entirely, even though there was nothing to implement.

Corruption by Consultants

The move to update ISO 9001 over worldwide vote results is being largely spearheaded by British consultant Paul Simpson, who now heads the TC 176 SC2 committee. Simpson previously held a number of short-lived jobs, including a brief stint as head of certification at SAI Global, until he was fired. A strong supporter of ISO and its Technical Management Board, ISO has lavished Simpson with key committee seats, despite his lack of actual experience in the field.

In addition, ISO gadfly Nigel Croft continues to hold influence, and has likewise pressed for an early update to ISO 9001. Croft is also a private consultant who relies on updates to the standard to drive business to his firm. He has also been granted crucial committee seats, such as that of the ISO 9001 “Brand Integrity Group.” In a personal message to me, Croft refused to use his position to press ISO to honor international sanctions against Russia, saying he felt no obligation to do anything because his “Black Sea resort” timeshare was being used to temporarily house a Ukrainian refugee family.

Consultants also benefit from ISO’s policy to have in-person standards development meetings located at beach resorts and vacation spots around the world. Consultants like Simpson and Croft can write off the travel on their taxes as “business expenses” while using the TC 176 events as an excuse for world-class vacations. ISO pretends that such locales are selected to ensure the participation of “developing nations.”

The consultants then falsely claim to be “volunteers.”

ISO has rules prohibiting the dominance of consultants in its committees, but refuses to enforce them. Prior to 2000, many standards were developed by actual subject matter experts from a variety of backgrounds. Post-2000, ISO began rewarding key figures, like Croft, with more power provided they towed the official line and helped generate revenue.

ISO violates additional rules by having much of ISO 9001’s text written by a management entity called the Technical Management Board, rather than by TC 176 members themselves. The TMB then mandates that the text be included in the standard, and prohibits changes to the text. ISO rules, however, state that standards are to be developed by subject matter expert delegates assigned by member nations. The TMB is not comprised of subject matter experts, and is subject to no representative membership. The actual members are largely unknown.

Billions in Costs to Industry

The early revision of ISO 9001 means that the million-plus companies will be forced to not only buy new copies of the standard, but also update their quality management systems to comply with any new requirements. Depending on the severity of the changes, the costs to worldwide enterprises could reach billions of dollars, and put some smaller companies out of business when they find they cannot update their systems, and lose customer contracts.

The move will earn ISO millions of dollars in revenue, however, as it sells standards directly through its webstore, then charges licensing fees for national bodies who resell the standards in their local regions.

Unfortunately, each update to ISO 9001 typically drives a downturn in certifications, as companies reject ISO’s hamfisted attempts at profiteering.

ISO Secretary-General Sergio Mujica is no stranger to corruption, as a government agency in Chile was investigated for facilitating tax evasion and drug trafficking while under his leadership. Mujica recently congratulated Russia one week after its invasion of Ukraine, and has refused to stop the sale of products in Russia, in violation of international sanctions.

About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.

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