Who Develops ISO Standards? Report Surveys Participation in Standards Creation

Published: October 14, 2004
Authors: Mari Morikawa, Jason Morrison

As international standards move into new areas that affect environmental and social issues, the question of who creates these standards becomes much more important. New research by the Pacific Institute shows that developed nations, and especially Western Europe, continue to dominate standards development within the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) – one of the oldest and largest standards setting bodies. And, surprisingly, although corporations make up one of the largest groups of stakeholders in ISO’s committee developing environmental management standards, it is consultants, registrars, and representatives from national standards bodies who combined have the largest presence (40 percent of the total participants). Who Develops ISO Standards? A Survey of Participation in ISO’s International Standards Development Processes — a new report by Mari Morikawa and Jason Morrison — uses empirical data on ISO’s membership and participation at international meetings to draw these and other conclusions about representation in ISO’s standards setting activities.

“We’ve long known that developing countries are under-represented in ISO, but ISO is viewed by outsiders as an industry-led institution – what is surprising is that corporations are actually under-represented vis-à-vis the ‘standards industry’ in one of ISO’s largest and most influential technical committees,” noted Mari Morikawa, a Research Associate with the Pacific Institute and co-author
of the report.

“ISO’s been aware of the problem of unbalanced regional and stakeholder representation for over 40 years,” continued Jason Morrison, Director of the Economic Globalization and the Environment Program and co-author of the report. “And although it is disappointing that there has been little real change over the past decades, there have been some positive developments as of late, most notably the manner in which ISO launched its initiative on Corporate Social Responsibility. We hope our analysis will pave the way for a more equitable balance of interests.”

The report also found that:

· On average, Western Europe represents almost half the voting base in ISO’s standards development work, despite representing approximately 6 percent of the world’s population.

· Contrary to popular perception, development of ISO’s environmental management standards is not dominated by industry: while industry does represent the largest single stakeholder group, it only constitutes one third of total participation at international meetings. Together, consultants, registrars, and representatives from standards bodies make up almost 40 percent of the participants attending Technical Committee 207 meetings.

· In recent years, ISO has taken steps to improve the balance of stakeholder representation in its standard development processes, although these initiatives have yet to demonstrate improvements in historical deficiencies in participation by certain interests, namely government and civil society representatives.

· Publicly available information on the stakeholder representation in ISO standards development is very limited. There is no consistent and systematic protocol for tracking stakeholder participation, which in turn prevents an assessment of whether, and the degree to which, input from the full range of affected stakeholders is achieved.

Download the report.