Consumers and Standards:
Partnership for a Better World

4.1 Consumers' priorities in standards

Consumers expect products and services to meet their needs. We have already seen general criteria that consumers use to judge a product or a service, under 2.1, 2.2 and 3.1. However, these concerns change over time and may vary according to country and region.

Consumer representatives try to enhance the requirements within the standards that define these products and services. They propose specifications for standards, which are favourable from a consumer’s point of view. This results in products and services with desirable characteristics from the consumer perspective.

Consumers’ priorities can change in accordance with general societal trends and expectations. Recent developments include the rising use of the Internet and mobile communications, purchasing decisions based increasingly on ethical production and distribution processes for goods and services, the increasing volume of international trade in goods and services, and – in many countries – growing ageing populations whose needs must be considered.

To monitor current projects in ISO, the ISO Committee on consumer policy (COPOLCO) has a specialized working group, called Priorities from a consumer’s point of view. It provides a network which encourages and coordinates the work of consumer representatives from ISO members, and from Consumers International, who participate in selected Technical Committees, at the national or international level.

Another task of the COPOLCO Priorities working group is to identify priority areas of consumer engagement in standards in development, and to track activity and provide updates about these areas every year. The COPOLCO priority areas and annual updates appear in the annually published COPOLCO Priority Programme.

For more information about how the Priorities Group works, see the Handbook.

4.2 Consumer-driven initiatives in ISO

Standards initiated by COPOLCO Each year ISO/COPOLCO holds an international workshop that focuses on a consumer-oriented theme. These workshops often lead to recommendations to develop new standardisation activities. In some cases these have resulted in new ISO standards work. In addition potential new work items can be developed by COPOLCO’s work programme.

 

Below are some specific examples of COPOLCO's contributions to ISO's work programme:

Customer satisfaction: Proposals for new work from COPOLCO have led to:

More recently, they have led to:

Product safety:

Social responsibility: ISO 26000, Guidance on social responsibility

Tourism and related services: COPOLCO contributed to the establishment of ISO/TC 228, notably by identifying priority areas of work in tourism services and undertaking fundamental research which supported the enquiry sent out to the ISO members.

Second hand goods: an International Standard dealing with issues related to the trading of second-hand goods (ISO 20245) – under development.

Other projects on customer contact centers, assessment and improvement of energy services to users, among others, are under development.

Guides and other publications

COPOLCO (along with other specialized ISO committees) develops Guides for standards-writers on topics such as packaging, product information, instructions for use, and graphical symbols, safety of children and consumer needs in service standards. These guides are intended to be used by experts involved in standardizing products or services which consumers use.

  • Development of guides for standards writers e.g. Guide 50, Safety aspects – Guidelines on child safety and ISO/IEC Guide 51, Safety aspects – Guidelines for their inclusion in standards.
  • Section 7.2.3 gives more specific information about ISO/IEC Guides which may be useful to consumer representatives.

Training

ISO has also invited COPOLCO to develop information and training materials specifically to promote consumer participation. See more in the consumer area of ISO Online.

Overall policy

COPOLCO has an important role within ISO to submit suggestions on policy matters, such as initiatives that acknowledge the special needs of the elderly, persons with disabilities and children, for consideration by the ISO Secretary-General and the ISO Council. Another important area of COPOLCO's policy recommendations has been to emphasize the importance of consumer participation in standards-development processes. As a result, ISO has undertaken many actions to promote consumer participation, including policy statements, informational publications, and training and awareness-raising activities, including the development of this module. COPOLCO also participates in policy making work within the ISO Council, through its Chair.

Useful policy statements on consumer participation:

ISO /IEC statement, Consumer participation in standardization.

ISO/IEC statement, Addressing the needs of older persons and people with disabilities in standardization work.

Both policy statements have led to the development of practical guidance for standards developers, ‘Involving consumers: how and why’ and ISO/IEC Guide 71, Guidelines for standards developers to address the needs of older persons and persons with disabilities.

4.3 Conclusion: a mutually beneficial relationship between consumers and standardization

ISO standards support the development and trade of products and services which meet consumers’ expectations for safety and health, fitness for purpose, environmental protection and other qualities.

Consumer representatives participate in the development of ISO standards and help to define product and service specifications that best meet consumers’ needs. This can be achieved by participating within a national mirror committee as well directly at the international level, through the national delegation or as a representative of CI.

Consumer representatives may be able to share best practices, trends and mutual concerns with each other through other networks, such as CI or COPOLCO, often generating speedier consideration of these through the ISO network.

When the end product or service meets the consumer’s requirements, this creates a win-win situation – for the consumer, for society and the manufacturer or service provider.

Thank you for your interest.

Participate in this process – and make a difference!

Review questions – Section 4

Link to answer key Section 4

1) Which of the following standards activities developed by ISO were based on initiatives from ISO/COPOLCO.

a. Social responsibility guidance
b. Second-hand goods guide for standards writers
c. Properties and performance of plastics
d. Freight containers
e. Customer satisfaction standards
Question: 1/4