Does international cooperation impact the transparency and inclusiveness of the standards development process?

While cooperation between standardisation organisations is expected to strengthen over the next decade, civil society organisations are concerned about the impacts such cooperation would have on the transparency and inclusiveness of the standards development process. Today, circa 80 % of European standards in the electro-technical sector have been developed within the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), before being adopted as European standards by CENELEC. This includes standards that were developed in response to a European Commission standardisation request, as a means to support European laws or policies, such as product-specific Ecodesign regulations. 

The vast majority of standards have direct or indirect impacts on consumer health and safety, working conditions and the environment, as they provide requirements or guidelines for a broad range of products, systems or services. These impacts are potentially exacerbated when standards are requested by the European Commission to support European laws and policies in areas of public interest, such as environmental laws and product safety sectoral legislation.

It is, therefore, appropriate for civil society organisations, such as environmental NGOs, to require that those standards are developed in full transparency and in close collaboration with them. This call is also justified by the fact that standardisation is a process run under the umbrella of private organisations, and largely dominated by industry.

However, ECOS and its partner organisations, representing the consumers’ interests (ANEC) and trade unions (ETUC), regularly experience a lack of transparency, accessibility issues and high reluctance to take their views and recommendations into consideration in the standard development process. Moreover, access to standardisation work at international level is sometimes refused, even when this work has been initiated in response to a request from the European Commission, on grounds that our organisations represent regional interests, risk disrupting the process or our area of concern is not relevant to the technical body’s responsibilities.

With this in mind, the question stands as to whether it is still prudent to encourage international cooperation, especially when standards are needed for the implementation of legislation and policies in areas of public interests? At least not until transparency and inclusiveness can be guaranteed at all stages of the standards development process.

The question of individual responsibilities of the different parties involved in standardisation remains to be clarified. ECOS, however, requests all relevant stakeholders, including the national and European standardisation organisations, to ensure that Regulation (EU) 1025/2012 on Standardisation is respected with regards to these key principles. The dialogue between civil society and the international standardisation organisations (ISO and IEC) should also continue.