Throughout my last 15 years of work in ISO 9001, it’s become clear that there are not many “customer advocates” working to benefit the end users of the standard. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but those working to benefit the standards developers and certification bodies vastly outnumber, and overpower, those working to represent the voice of the customer.
The irony is notable, since ISO 9001 teaches us that the customer matters. Yet the various committees responsible for standards development (ISO TMB, TC 176, ISO CASCO, ANSI TAGs, etc.) are dominated nearly exclusively by certification body representatives, or retired ISO consultants. The certification scheme itself is managed or represented by organizations such as IAF and IAAR which are literally comprised solely of CB reps, since they control who is allowed to join. Sector standards like AS9100 and TS 16949 are run by self-appointed “primes” who, more often than not, don’t bother to certify their own organizations to the standards they impose on others.
So powerful has the CB/AB lobby become, they have managed to convince entire nations that the “one country, one accreditation body” makes sense, thus ensuring they never have any competition… even though in most nations, the national Accreditation Body is a private organization, and not a government agency.
Routinely, standards developers insist that the real users of ISO 9001 are not the companies paying for the standards or certifications, but “primes” and OEMs who demand compliance as part of the contract award process. This makes sense only to those promoting the idea, and to exactly no one else on the planet. But there won’t be any convincing them otherwise, at least not until they get dragged before the US Congress and have to explain why they’ve been ripping off the Federal government for the past few decades. Subpoenas are wonderful things, in that regard.
With the new accreditation rules due to be released (ISO 17021-1) dramatically crippling end user’s rights while diluting rules governing CBs more than ever, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. And why shouldn’t it, no one is telling them otherwise!
The Sky Already Fell
The damage is real, and it’s happening right now. Without anyone defending user’s rights, CBs can issue certificates to anyone who pays, and allow unqualified shithouses access to lucrative government contracts that require ISO 9001 for entry. Meanwhile, fully qualified organizations that didn’t buy a certificate are left out, no matter how good their quality is.
Worse yet, CBs can issue certificates to organizations that spit out products that kill people, and hide behind a convenient, self-developed escape clause claiming it “was all based on a sample.” Tell that to the dead people.
On the standards side, end users have to face the inevitable costs associated with implementing ridiculous, intangible concepts gussied up as “requirements.” Yes, I’m talking about “risk based thinking,” which will prove to be one of the most expensive messes TC 176 ever created. Without proper user representation on TC 176, ISO is free to dream up all manner of unproven, whackjob craziness, without any consideration that companies won’t be able to implement it without acquiescing to the lowest common denominator interpretation: the unqualified CB auditor. This is standardization by kaffeeklatsch, supported through assessment by Krusty the Clown.
Get Up, Stand Up!
So where are the advocates for the people paying for this entire mess? Consultants are so busy partnering with their CB auditors, they wind up working against the best interests of their clients. End users remain so confused about standards development processes, they don’t push back when standards make things worse, rather than better. Accreditation bodies are so busy counting their CB money, they abandon their role as “top cops” entirely, going so far as to help cover up criminal activities. Our so-called “quality press” can’t risk a dent in their dwindling ad revenue, so they can’t publish any critical or dissenting opinions which might impact on ISO or the CB infrastructure. And ISO isn’t about to step up, since it is terrified of being sued for liability in personal injury litigation.
This can’t continue. The end users of ISO 9001 need advocates who can carry their message to the accreditation scheme holders and the standards development community. They need knowledgeable voices to push for reform, and adherence to international rules. They need vocal representatives who will teach them what their rights are, and how to invoke them. And the public — the people who can die as a result of this impossible incest — need protection.
ISO 9001 should not merely be about funneling money to accreditation bodies through their protected CBs. It should mean better quality products and services, less 2nd party audits, and reduced costs. It should be a universally trusted indicator of quality, free from conflicts of interest.
Who will stand?
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 9001:2015. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.