ISO brochure: international standards and private standards

Paul Boughton

Any organisation may claim to have developed a standard, but ISO warns that 'not all standards are created equal.' ISO is publishing a new brochure that clarifies the distinctions between international standards of the type developed by the ISO system, using well described and accepted principles and disciplines, and 'private' standards developed by industry consortia and other groupings.

The context for the brochure, International Standards and 'private standards', is the concern over the potential of increasing numbers of 'private standards' for creating technical barriers to trade and confusion in the marketplace as to which standards should be used. ISO warns that the existence of a growing multitude of private standards in such fields as information and communication technologies, agri-food, and on social and environmental issues, may ultimately confuse users and consumers, thereby diminishing their important market, safety, social or environmental effect.

"In addition," states ISO, "claims of conformance, using potentially inconsistent methodologies for their assessment, may also undermine the intended impacts of such private standard."

ISO is a non-governmental organisation and its membership comprises the national standards institutes of 159 countries which, in turn, have strong links with stakeholders from industry, government and consumers. Such a broad range of stakeholders, along with the robust processes ISO uses for developing standards, provides the basis for consensus across sectors and countries on its international standards.

Within the new brochure ISO explains that its international standards are developed according to principles stipulated by the World Trade Organization's Technical Barriers to Trade Committee (WTO/TBT):

 * Transparency

* Openness

* Impartiality and consensus

* Effectiveness and relevance

* Coherence

* Addressing the concerns of developing countries

 Other standards developed to meet the needs of specific sectors, or segments of the population, may be valid and relevant for their purpose, but ISO says they should not be considered as equivalent to ISO standards because they do not adhere to the above criteria, nor do they share all of the other attributes of formal international standards.

 However, because ISO's voluntary standards do meet these criteria, as do those of its partner organisation the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), their standards can, for example, be used by governments as technical support for public policy and regulations, particularly in such fields as health, safety and the environment.

ISO states: "Coherence, harmonisation and a closer level of co-operation between the developers of private standards and the formal international standards system needs to occur. Ultimately, the goal of one international standard, one test and one certificate should be pursued in these domains in order to achieve global acceptance, as well as their intended impacts."

The free brochure, International Standards and 'private standards', runs to eight A4 pages and is available in English and French editions.

 For more information, visit

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