In a stunning display of complete contempt for accreditation norms, an official with the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) — the largest accreditation body in the world — has claimed that it is “not unusual” for consultants to sell their services alongside that of a specific certification body.
ISO 17021-1, the official standard for certification bodies that UKAS is tasked with enforcing — says otherwise. Clause 5.2.9 identified such arrangements as a “threat to impartiality,” prohibiting the practice outright (emphasis added):
The certification body’s activities shall not be marketed or offered as linked with the activitiesof an organization that provides management system consultancy. The certification body shall take action to correct inappropriate links or statements by any consultancy organization stating or implying that certification would be simpler, easier, faster or less expensive if the certification body were used.
Recently a whistleblower reported that the Qatar-based consulting firm Vibrant Consultancy WLL got caught offering a package of consulting and certification for ISO 9001 and other standards. The quote prepared by Vibrant provides a line item for consulting and then another line item for certification services to be provided by URS, a UKAS-accredited certification body.
When contacted, UKAS representative Charlie Bowen did not identify the Vibrant / URS quote as a problem, but reached out to an unnamed “Customer Feedback Manager” who dismissed the issue, claiming such arrangements were “not unusual“:
The quote may indicate a conflict of interest, but it is also not unusual for the consultant to quote for both consultancy and UKAS certification. It is likely they provide the consultancy then charge a fee to work with URS to undertake the certification side independently. However, it does depend on who is providing what and when, and the quote doesn’t really specify this.
In fact, the quote clearly showed Vibrant offering the URS services, going so far as to include a price for URS alongside Vibrant’s consulting services. Vibrant even quoted pricing for URS’ first- and second-year surveillance audits.
Despite the evidence, the unnamed UKAS rep continued to defend URS, which pays UKAS:
There is no indication that URS is involved at this time, or they have done anything wrong, so we would need some sort of evidence that Vibrant as the consultancy has direct links with and is working on behalf of URS. The quote is not sufficient for this, so if you have anything else indicating a conflict of interest, please provide this, as we need more detail to show there is a definite link (contractual or via personnel) between URS and Vibrant.
The UKAS response is remarkable because it requires the complainant to take up UKAS’ job and investigate the potential fraud. As an accreditation body, UKAS’ primary function is to enforce the rules of ISO 17021-1 on bodies such as URS; under the accreditation body rules, defined in ISO 17011, there is no provision for an AB like UKAS to offload its responsibilities back on the public.
The response by UKAS to the Vibrant / URS collusion suggests that staff at the accreditation body are not trained on ISO 17021-1, nor understand the actual role of an accreditation body within the ISO certification scheme. It is also unusual that an official with UKAS would refer to “UKAS certification,” since UKAS does not offer certifications at all. As an accreditation body, UKAS only offers “accreditation.”
UKAS has grown increasingly conflicted since the elevation of Matt Gantley to the role of CEO in 2016. Under Gantley, UKAS has ignored major complaints for allowing its logo to appear on certificates issued to companies involved in human trafficking and alleged genocide, and has dodged responsibility for its role in the deadly Grenfell Tower fire. Gantley has been found to be promoting some of UKAS’ certification bodies over others on social media, a violation of UKAS’ own rules against conflicts of interest.
UKAS is largely protected by the UK government and is supported by its MP “sponsor” Lord Lindsay.
The Vibrant quote is dated 2021, so no complaint can be filed against them. However, Oxebridge is exploring a complaint against UKAS itself in the matter, since their response was dated June 26th, 2023.
URS has faced similar scandals in the past. Certification bodies are prohibited from certifying the quality management system of another CB, but URS nevertheless violated IOA 17021-1 and issued an ISO 9001 certificate to Russian Register. URS then certified an Indian online pharmacy cited by the USA FDA and its Indian counterpart for selling fake COVID-19 cures. In 2019, URS closed another complaint about its practices in the Middle East, and blamed the root cause of the issue on the person filing the complaint.