LES ANNALES DES MINES
FOR OUR ENGLISH-SPEAKING READERS
Standards and certification, a system undergoing change
of standards at the national, European and international levels
National systems of standards
were set up in the late 19th century, their structures varying from one
country to another. Developments in the United States and Japan differed
noticeably from those in Europe. These systems now have to cope with the
challenge of globalization and formation of regional free-trade zones.
A world tour…
: Constructing and diffusing know-how and "performance"
In a thoroughly changing
environment, the Agence Française pour la Normalisation (AFNOR)
is evolving to adapt to the new situation in European and international
standards. Organized so as to efficiently serve firms, administrations
and society, this agency has reinforced basic operations and developed
activities that help apply new norms and standards: information, counseling,
training and certification. AFNOR is thus consolidating its position among
the leading national standards institutes.
issues and actors in standards-making
The French system of standards,
wherein AFNOR is a key actor, has long been involved in European and international
standards and has managed to make them a part of the French system. But
the latter must now handle new issues: globalized problems, the increased
role played by new actors, changes in technology or regulations, and the
strategies adopted by organizations and institutes active in the field
economic impact of standards, a British study
The Standards and Technical
Regulations Directorate of the British Department of Trade and Industry
has issued a short report on the economic benefits of standardization.
Drawn up by Prof. Peter Swann in 2000, it examines from a theoretical viewpoint
the positive effects of standards and focuses on their relation to public
policies. This study has helped advance the DTI’s thinking about how to
justify the subsidies it grants for standardization.
new strategy for French standards given the challenges of globalization
and sustainable development
Current issues in standardization stem from important trends - globalization and sustainable development - in an evolving environment, which affect the setting of voluntary standards. Big organizations in others countries have drawn up strategies with their partners and made them public. These strategies serve as guidelines for action in a, by nature, quite "diffuse" system. This is what AFNOR, which keeps tabs on developments in France, wanted to do when it proposed a new strategic view of the French system of standards.
in the context of European construction and international relations
It is not fashionable to
speak favorably of the construction of the European Union, which is accused
of any- and everything. Even the notion of "standards" lends itself to
a sort of glib irony since it is said to imply a drastic - and (it goes
without saying) catastrophic - reduction in variety, whether in a "political"
sense or in the number of cheeses on the dinner table. European standards
are one of the major successes in the EU's economic integration and construction,
a success involving all interested parties.
for assessing compliance
Assessing and certifying
compliance with technical standards is a key issue in the ongoing evolution
of both technical regulations and the means for evaluating compliance.
Each economic activity feels it should be a special case with its own solutions.
Beyond a few legitimate differences however, standards produce constants
that, not limited to Europe, concern any market economy and are based on
relations of confidence between economic actors.
management and sustainable development
The "citizen firm" is fully
involved in the global issue of sustainable development, which seeks to
make the economy compatible with the environment and society. Management
systems are a concrete tool that, already existing, firms can use as they
try to grasp the practical implications of their long-term strategies for
pursuing sustainable development. It is but a short step to imagine that
standards could help link management systems to sustainable development.
in a global context
Accreditation can be defined
as "controlling controls". It intends to build up confidence by guaranteeing
the competence and impartiality of certified organizations. International
agreements for recognizing the results of accreditation aim at facilitating
trade - one test and one certificate recognized everywhere.
legal framework for notifying the EU of accrediting bodies
The notification process
lets governments wide leeway for choosing, with the help of EU criteria
based on competence and professionalism, national accrediting bodies. Having
recourse to an accrediting organization is strongly recommended, but not
compulsory. Whatever procedure is chosen, certifying these control organizations
is an important phase in the process f building up consumer confidence
in product safety. But who will be held liable for a tort involving the
certification procedure itself, especially if public authorities are implicated
Firms are increasingly judged by their "societal behavior". To evaluate firms, organizations of societal analysis and international organizations have set (nonfinancial) criteria for rating firms that are, little by little, becoming imperative like standards.