Quality Guarantees Flooding the World

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Temps de lecture : 4 minutes  

Labels and standards have developed a lot over the past fifteen years. They are quality control tools meant to reassure the consumer. Standards are rules developed by independent organisms and used in industrial politics. Labels are communication tools created by companies. There are millions of them in the world and it is becoming increasingly hard to understand which is which.

Broadly speaking, standards represent all the compulsory rules (rules of law) ordered according to a “standard hierarchy” by order of importance. This summary is about standards in the strictest sense of the word, that is to say technical rules relating to the characteristics of a product or service and the way in which it is made and commercialised. They have progressively become the voluntary tools for organising markets, competition and the circulation of technical know-how.

Each country has its own national system of standardization. The central standardization organisation or the one which is the most representative of each country takes part in regional organisations such as the European Committee for Standardization, or international organisations like the International Organization for Standardization, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) or the International Telecommunication Union amongst the thirty or so authorized standardization organisations.

The label is a collective brand created by a professional sector to vouch that a product presents a group of features set according to regulation. This regulation establishes a quality level. The label is delivered by an independent organisation. There are millions of labels throughout the world that have been set up by companies, producers and consumers.

Elaborating standards

The certificate of compliance of products and services to standards gives the user objective proof of their quality level and their performance of use. This certification has become an essential marketing component of a product or a service. It plays a part in how the product or service is positioned in relation to the competition. The standardization organisation starts by checking the feasibility and opportunity of a standard. Then, experts of the field in question elaborate the standard and lastly, the project is validated by the authorities. The standard’s validity is regularly reviewed to see if it needs to be revised. .

Depending on the country, standardization status rests on a different balance between:

– The International Organization for Standardization which ensures a public mission by order and a mission of public interest, at the disposal of industrialists and consumers

– professional technicians’ or users’ organisations and associations.

Inversely to the prevalent situation in the United States and Canada, where a very large number of organisations publish application standards per sector, European countries generally have centralised structures. In the electrical field, 80% of European standards are taken from CEI international standards. The electrotechnical sector is different as it created its own models on national, European (Cenelec) and international (CEI) levels.

The ISO certification

The International Standard Organisation (ISO) which can be found in 157 countries, has 16 500 international standards, in all sectors, agriculture, construction, factories, distribution, transport, medical equipment, environment, security, information and communication technologies, services… ISO 9001 is a standard that is accepted worldwide to provide assurance on the quality of goods and services in supplier-customer relationships. ISO 14001 targets organisations which want to improve their environmental performance by mastering the impact linked to their activity. The number of ISO 14001 certificates delivered is constantly rising (2004 was the year with the highest increase with a rate of 37%), pulled up by Japan and China, followed in Europe by Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Sweden and France. Though Europe represents 44% of certificates, trends show a slowing down in favour of the Far East and China in particular (+75% in 2004). The ISO 14001 certification was imposed when electrical and electronic equipment was made, in the metallurgy and construction industries.


The label is a form of communication with the final consumer. Each professional sector and each nation has its own labelling criteria. A label makes it easier to recognise the quality of projects and actions bearing the label, and therefore their contractualisation and their implementation. [Debate] For the Consumer Union in the United States, a label which means something must be supported by a transparent system that makes it easier to access information on the content and on the organisation which created the label.

Apart from the agricultural and food spheres, “labels” do not constitute certification [Debate]. In the food industry, the label gives an indication on the geographical origin or the cultural practice such as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), Agriculture Biologique* (AB), the French ‘Label Rouge‘. There are about 550 AOC designations in France and most of them refer to wine, cheeses and fruits. Accredited organisms ensure that the specifications are respected. Labels have considerably been developed in construction, particularly to differentiate energy performance.

*Organic Farming

In 1997, WWF and Unilever founded the Marine Stewardship Council, an eco-label guaranteeing responsible and sustainable fishing methods. This label only permits fishing in a way that allows species to reproduce and that does not endanger the structure, diversity and productivity of ecosystems and the species they are composed of. The fishing industry has started to work on a management programme defining its “environmental, legal and socio-political demands”. If there is a risk of a species being endangered, strict quotas are put in place.

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