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Standardization, Certification & Accreditation

 

The topic of the focus group Standardization, certification & accreditation is forms of regulation in which technical standards and assessments are part of regulatory systems that have both public and private characteristics.

Standardization is the process whereby parties voluntarily and on the basis of consensus agree on technical standards for products, services or processes – in particular to promote the links between these.

Certification (or conformity assessment) is the assessment by a recognized expert (institution) that a product, process, system, or the competences of a person meets (is in compliance with) predefined requirements – as laid down in standardization norms.

Accreditation is the evaluation respectively the recognition of competence, both in the sense of impartiality and independence as well as in the technical competence of according (ie certifying) persons or institutions, as well as the management system that supports them in this.

Background

As a form of private regulation in market standardization, certification and accreditation have a long history. Their importance in the past 20-30 years, however, has increased enormously. That is firstly due to economic globalization, accompanied by the formation of (interlaced) chains of  production between companies from many countries, on (almost) all continents. Secondly, there was a major shift from government to governance and the emergence of ‘regulatory states’ whose governments extensively ‘left’ the regulation of public interests (whether or not ‘conditioned’) to private operators (i.e. companies or NGOs). An example of this is the rise of the “Nieuwe Aanpakrichtlijnen” in the European Union in the nineties, in which general requirements for products were defined, and the interpretation is made by European harmonized standards.

In conjunction certification is the first legal clue, because here (in public or private law sense) legal positions and relations are determined (e.g. by whether or not to grant a certificate). Those positions and relationships are substantively largely established by standardization norms, whereas confidence in the accuracy and compliance with those standards is largely based on accreditation of certification where standardization norms are used.

Both in terms of the functioning of markets (in relationships between companies, and between businesses and consumers; through fair competition and adequate consumer protection), and in terms of securing specific public interests (such as food and building safety, energy efficiency and environmental protection) the function of certification is – in conjunction with standardization and accreditation – of great social importance (in terms of guaranteeing prosperity and welfare), as well as of scientific importance (in terms of the transition from technical to legal norms and legal methods of design and safeguarding of the interests involved).

Governance perspective

From a governance perspective, questions arise particularly with regard to the role of government in the functioning of the aforementioned regimes. Should the government act from (alleged) market failures and to what extent may public intervention involve network control (as with NGOs as standardization organizations or as certifiers) and/or market control (with competitive conformity assessors, such as credit rating agencies).

Legally, the question arises if and how positions of parties concerned are respectively ought to be standardized and what forms of regulation (private regulation, self-regulation, hybrid regulation, government regulation) are suitable – both in terms of legitimacy and effectiveness. Law & Governance converge on such questions on forms of ‘regulatory governance’ that are both characterized by multi-actor and multi-level relationships, through involvement of both public and private parties and links of standards and enforcement on different levels, international, transnational and national.

Organization

The NILG-focus group standardization, certification and accreditation, is run by:

– The VU University Amsterdam (Richard Neerhof);
– University of Twente (Michiel Heldeweg);
– And Wageningen University and Research Centre (Bernd van der Meulen).

A core group is being established which includes researchers from the University of Groningen, Tilburg University and Erasmus University Rotterdam, as well as professionals of the Accreditation Council, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation and the legal practice (particularly the legal profession). Contacts with professionals of conformity assessment bodies and the Dutch-Standards Institute will be expanded. PhD students and postdocs are involved in the focus group.