Is it legal to require certification to an ISO standard?


Q: Can a contract include a requirement stating that the manufacturer of the materials to be installed as part of the job must be ISO 9001 and ISO 14000 listed? My question is in reference to a contract I received that is requiring this.

A: In general, contracts between business entities are enforceable unless they violate laws or are contrary to public policy. Private businesses entering into commercial contracts have a great deal of freedom in establishing contract terms.

One of the common uses of ISO standards is to clearly delineate requirements in commercial contracts.   This can, and often does, include requirements for third-party certification of suppliers to ISO 9001-2008: Quality management systems–Requirements and/or ISO 14001-2004: Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use.

This requirement is usually met by providing a copy of the certificate issued by a third-party certification body (registrar) that lists the name of the organization certified and the scope of the certification.

Based on the information provided along with your question, it appears that the question actually relates to a material specification that was included as part of a request for proposal (RFP) from a governmental entity. Note: the contract has not been included with this post to protect the anonymity of the questioner and the governmental entity.

The authority of governmental contracting officers is more limited.  They must comply with applicable purchasing statutes and regulations.  Whether or not a requirement for certification to ISO 9001 and/or ISO 14001 is permissible would be determined by reviewing these contracting rules.  These rules also often provide mechanisms for contesting the award of a contract if it is believed to be unfair.

There are often opportunities to request clarification of information included in a government-issued RFP. This may be something to consider in this situation since the requirements in this RFP appear to be unclear, such as:

  •  There is no comprehensive “list” of certified companies so there is no mechanism for a manufacturer to be listed.
  • There is no ISO 14000 standard.  There are over 20 different standards in the ISO 14000 family – each with a different number.  I assume the RFP is referring to ISO 14001.
  • It is not clear which of the materials specified in the contract must be manufactured by an organization that is certified to the ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 standards.

(Note: the contract has not been included with this post to protect the anonymity of the questioner and the governmental entity).

I hope this helps.

Thea Dunmire, JD, CIH, CSP
Chair, ASC Z1-Audit Subcommittee
ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc.
Largo, FL
www.enlar.com

Related resources:

Explore the content below or find more in the ASQ Knowledge Center.

“Quality Improvement through Proactive Contracting: Contracts Are Too Important to Be Left to Lawyers!”

by Helena Haapio Annika Varjonen, paper presented at the World Conference on Quality and Improvement (ASQ members only content)

Preventive law is the concept that legal opportunities must be identified early to take proper advantage and that legal problems must be detected early so that there are no negative surprises. Contracts can be used as preventive tools that avoid most such surprises. A vital contractual tool is the contract review, which the ISO 9000 standards identify as a device for ensuring that a supplier has the knowledge and capability for meeting a customer’s requirements. Read more.

Managing Contract Quality Requirements

by C. Robert Pennella, ASQ Quality Press

This book is for anyone who prepares contract quality requirements for a supplier, is a supplier, or is affected in any way by a contract. Readers will learn how to establish and implement contract requirements effectively; identify and resolve actual and potential contractual problems; preclude overlapping of administrative efforts; reduce unanticipated costs associated with errors of omission; and be better prepared for the administrative application and final outcome of contract quality requirements. Read more.

Career Corner: Has Information About Quality Become a Liability?

by Diane Kulisek, Quality Progress (open access)

In this career corner column, the author provides recommendations for approaching quality issue resolution in today’s complex legal landscape. Read more.

Explore the ASQ Knowledge Center for more case studies, articles, benchmarking reports, and more.

Browse open access content from ASQ magazines and journals here.

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One Response to Is it legal to require certification to an ISO standard?

  1. The fact the query is raised after the contract is received clearly shows the need to follow the requirements of ISO 9001. If that would have been done, the querist would have known at the the stage of bidding, that such is the requirement of the potential contract.
    Merely compliance to ISO 9001 or ISO 14001 ia not, conclusively, going to ensure that products shall be made conforming to product rquirements , by following a realization process that is (by letter and by spirit) meets the applicable statutory environmental standards, in a manner which is conducive to the occupational health and safety of the organization.
    But, if this is one of the ways to bring in more and more of suppliers on to a common operational practices , so as to scale the process of evaluation of tits suppliers on a higher degree of maturity, the move would seem to be desirable.

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