What is ISO?

The ISO is a non-governmental organisation based in Geneva. It is a network of national standards bodies which develops and publishes international standards. ISO has drawn up over 20,000 international standards and related documents since its foundation in 1946. ISO funding comes from subscriptions paid by national members and from the sale of standards. 

Why is ISO relevant for business?

ISO is developing standards which deal with different issues covering almost every industry, from technology, to food safety, to healthcare, and ranging from product specification to quality management, sustainable development management, etc. They help to harmonize technical standards among countries and contribute to improving business credibility towards consumers and the general public. ISO standards are not only of a technical nature;  ISO has moved into work areas related to social and labour matters, such as social responsibility (ISO 26000) or occupational safety and health (ISO 45001). Although ISO standards are not intended to be legally binding documents, but a tool for voluntary use by organizations or companies, there is a risk that once the standard is released, it can be imposed upon contractors/suppliers by industry players and governmental institutions (through public procurement), meaning that it would no longer be a voluntary decision to use ISO standards.

How is the IOE involved with ISO?

ISO standards are developed through a consensus process within technical committees (TCs) by groups of experts from all over the world. TCs are made up of representatives of NGOs, government, industry and other stakeholders, who are put forward by ISO’s national members. If consensus is reached within the TC, a draft is shared with all ISO members who are asked to comment. As a liaison member, the IOE defends the interest of employers and raises the voice of business in these working groups.

How does the IOE’s work with ISO advance the agenda for business?

Beyond the IOE participation in the ISO TC meetings, the IOE works with its members all along the process, providing them with updated information and guidance, in particular when an ISO ballot is required. The best way to formally influence ISO work is, indeed, via the national representatives. Agreement on the final draft is on the basis of these national member votes. Through its observer status, the IOE cannot vote but is allowed to make comments. It is, therefore, important for employers’ organizations and company members to engage with their national ISO liaison group to make sure the final outcome is acceptable to enterprises of all sizes and sectors. The IOE can also undertake joint action with its counterpart when there is a common ground on issues with unions.