Any organization may claim to have developed a "standard", but "not all standards are created equal", states ISO in a new brochure clarifying 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 potentially 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 market-place 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 standards."

ISO is a nongovernmental organization and its membership comprises the national standards institutes of 159 countries who, 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.

ISO points out in the brochure 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 perfectly valid and relevant for their purpose, but 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 organization 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.

"Coherence, harmonization and a closer level of cooperation between the developers of private standards and the formal International Standards system needs to occur," ISO states in the brochure, concluding, "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."

International Standards and "private standards", eight pages, A4 format, is published in English (ISBN 978-92-67-10518-5) and French editions (ISBN 978-92-67-20518-2). It is available free of charge (fee for postage and handling of bulk orders) from the ISO Central Secretariat through the ISO Store or by contacting the Marketing, Communication & Information department. It can also be obtained from ISO national member institutes (see the complete list with contact details). The brochure can also be downloaded as PDF file free of charge from the ISO Website.

International standards and

This brochure clarifies the distinctions between international standards and "private" standards.