It was a busy week for the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), that plucky body that oversees the entire world’s accreditation scheme for management system certifications. More and more, the evidence is coming forward that the IAF holds a critical role in many of the world’s scandals, product recalls, patient injuries, and more, all while remaining utterly immune from official investigations or subpoenas. This is not because they are particularly powerful, but merely because the ISO certification scheme is so complicated, no one has any idea who the heck the IAF is.
Apparently, the IAF has not only refused outright to recognize Oxebridge’s odd little position in the industry, something their outgoing VP Randy Dougherty at least acknowledged mutteringly. Under the new regime, their position is to just ignore the reporting we do and hope it goes away. And, apparently, never respond to any emails or formal questions, ever. That’s not likely to work, but I’ll let them figure that out.
The way we report things on Oxebridge is never as a “hit job,” and we always give the subjects a chance to explain their side of the story. This was true for three IAF pieces last week. First, I wrote them to get ask how they came about with the (apparently unsupported) claim that “93%” of all ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified companies had upgraded to the latest version, pointing out that the data doesn’t match the official numbers coming out of ISO. I asked if they had other data, and if they would share it. They didn’t answer.
Next, I wrote about an issue that hasn’t been reported here, yet, but the situation shows how much goes on behind the scenes before an article runs on Oxebridge. In the past year, we have been inundated with spam email messages from at least ten accredited CBs, all coming from India, and all accredited by the US-based accreditation body IAS. A few years back I interviewed IAS’ President Chuck Ramani about how he intended to put up competition with the world’s dominant accreditation body, ANAB, right on its home turf. Ramani said all the right things, and I was personally happy that ANAB was finally getting some competition. Ramani and I both agreed it would be an uphill battle to even put a dent in ANAB’s US market.
Unfortunately, it seems that IAS’ didn’t make the kind of dent in that market, and instead reached out to India — Ramani’s home country — to populate its client ranks en masse. Worse, IAS has done a horrible job of policing these companies, making it look as if IAS is printing accreditation certificates to Asian CBs as fast as it can, while simultaneously making ANAB actually look good in comparison — amazing as that is.
Each of the ten or so CBs that spammed the Oxebridge servers all had a similar story: they wanted a US partner to help sell their registration services, and were offering finder’s fees or referral fees in exchange if we handed them our clients. That arrangement is prohibited by ISO 17021-1, the accreditation rules that IAS is supposed to be upholding, but the CBs don’t seem to care. Worse, they routinely boast of their “US-based” accreditation by IAS, with most of them providing links to their accreditation certificates.
I finally had enough, and wrote to Ramani and his staff, asking them to check into it. I copied the IAF on this, as well, since the IAF’s logos are all over these certs, too. I asked both IAS and IAF to do their “one job” and police the CBs. I got an email back from Mohan Sabaratnam, a VP at IAS, asking me to provide him the emails, etc., but in the same email he took an unexpected tack and tried to explain away the problem, quoting IAF in the process:
[The] IAF does permit entities to operate on behalf of accredited management systems certification bodies. These entities may not be wholly or partly owned or employed by the CB. Further, these entities may or may not be located in the same country as the CB head office and may be a representative, agency, franchisee or sales office of the CB or any entity which has a contractual relationship with the CB for performing certification activities. The new IAF MD 23:2018, Control of Entities Operating on Behalf of Accredited Management Systems Certification Bodies does spell out the practices.
You can read it for yourself, but the IAF MD 23 document doesn’t suddenly allow CBs to engage with consultants. Instead, I think Mr. Sabaratnam didn’t understand the problem I was quoting. But even then, you might have expected the IAF to chime in and correct Mr. Sabaratnam, but they still said absolutely nothing. The IAF previously ruled it’s fine if you use their logo to make illegal, forged documents appear legitimate, so it’s no wonder the IAF is totally fine with IAS misquoting them.
The third question IAF refused to answer came when I wrote them an extended email on another matter entirely, that of the IAF’s role in a growing number of world scandals. The email alerted IAF that we now have over 50 active investigations underway, and that 40 of the companies held or hold ISO certificates accredited by IAF member ABs. I included a long list of companies, including Kobe Steel, Takata, PIP, Nissan, Toray Cord and others, each of which was involved in some very public scandal involving their quality and quality systems. Those problems range from massive, decade-long quality data falsifications to accidents like the Miami bridge collapse which resulted in actual deaths.
Armed with this data, I then asked the IAF how it explains its logo appearing the ISO certificates of these companies, and in nearly every case, that certificate being revoked only when the scandal resulted in the company shutting down entirely, such as for Takata. The others still have their IAF certificates, despite the very public revelations of their misdeeds.
And, yes, the IAF chose to ignore that query as well.
To date, the approach of ignoring professional, important questions such as these never ends well. It allows journalists to write articles based on the evidence, yes, but then without the parties taking advantage of explaining the context, or their side of the story. There’s likely no explanation IAF could give, sure, but they should take these opportunities and at least try. The fact that they don’t tells volumes: they don’t think they owe you are anyone — such as those being killed by ISO certified companies bearing certificates with the IAF logo — an answer.
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.