Standards Must Tackle Real Problems Faced by Consumers – Elena Wolf

Interview with Ms. Elena Wolf, Consumer and Public Interest Engagement Executive, British Standards Institution

Q: Ms. Wolf, as you reminded in your letter the BSI is the oldest standards’ organisation in the world and a lot of its standards formed the basis for the international standards. Could you tell the readers of Iste’mol Madaniyati (Culture of Consumption) Weekly of the Federation of Societies on Consumer Rights Protection of Uzbekistan about the organisation you are working for?

A: BSI was formed in 1901 by Sir John Wolfe-Barry – the man who designed London’s Tower Bridge – BSI was the world’s first National Standards Body. The original BSI committee met for the first time on the day Queen Victoria died – 22 January 1901. One of the first standards it went on to publish related to steel sections for tramways, which ensured that the sections are made to the same measurement so that the tramway assembly became a lot more efficient. The BSI Kitemark was first registered by BSI on 12 June 1903 – originally known as the British Standard Mark, it has grown into one of Britain’s most important and most recognized certification marks.

BSI is a very special company as it has no shareholders, meaning profits are reinvested into the company itself. These kind of companies in the UK have the status of a Royal Charter company. Royal Charters have a history which dates back to the 13th century and their original purpose was to create public or private corporations (including towns and cities), and to define their privileges and purpose. Today, new Charters are normally reserved for bodies that work in the public interest. These organizations include professional institutions and charities who can demonstrate pre-eminence, stability and permanence in their particular field. For example, the BBC also has a Royal Charter like a many long-established universities in the UK.
Even though I joined BSI very recently I am very proud to work for a company with the responsibility of being a National Standards Body. There are other sections of the broader BSI Group that deal with product testing, assurance and certification, and training.
In its role as the UK’s National Standards Body BSI maintains a very high profile and plays an important role in the governance of a number of regional and international standards organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC), the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the European Committee for Electro-technical Standardization (CENELEC). In terms of numbers BSI as a National Standards Body has about 340 employees, about 11,800 committee members, there about 2,500 new standards published every year, and 1500 withdrawn. 95 % of BSI standards year on year are international and European standards.
In addition to all the traditional standards developed by BSI over the years BSI has played a leading role in developing a new generation of standards to help organizations become better governed and more responsible such as anti-bribery, organizational governance and asset management. BSI has also increased collaboration with experts in new fields such as smart cities, nanotechnologies, cell therapy and Building Information Modelling (BIM).
British Standards inspire international standardization and some of the world’s most frequently used standards started life as British Standards, such as ISO 9001 on quality management systems and ISO 14001 on environmental management systems. BS 8901 for sustainability management systems for events was used in 2012 for the London Olympics and in 2014 for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. This standard inspired ISO 20121.

Q: As is known, standardisation stands for safety, good quality and ease of use of goods. How important is standardisation in protecting rights of consumers?

A: Standards are everywhere and affect people every day. Our mobile phones, our washing machines, the cars we drive and the toys our children or grandchildren play with are all made to specific standards that help to ensure that they are easy to use, work properly and are as safe as possible. Standards don’t just deal with products. Services such as healthcare, tourism, energy providers, banking and insurance are also covered by standards that deal with issues such as staff training and qualifications, information provision, customer service, complaints handling and billing. There are also standards to tackle key issues such as social responsibility, the management of sustainable events; standards also cover such important area as the accessibility of public buildings.

As the UK National Standards Body we see standards as ‘what good looks like’. I would like to mention here that BS0 known as the “standard for standards” requires that all stakeholders are represented in standards development with consumer stakeholders playing a vital role.
Standards are unique because they are developed by groups of stakeholders, including consumer representatives who have to agree on the content, with decision-making by consensus. Consumer involvement ensures that standards tackle real problems faced by real people. Standards can be implemented and updated faster than legislation, so can respond more quickly to emerging trends and new technologies. They provide industry benchmarks for good practice, to which all companies can aspire.

If standards are to have a real impact it’s essential that the people who use products and services – consumers – help to create them. That’s why BSI created and has supported the Consumer & Public Interest Network (CPIN) for many years. CPIN represents consumers’ views and makes sure that new standards really make a difference for consumers. Consumer representatives work in standards developing committees and also often suggest new standards that might benefit consumers. Members of CPIN are involved at the highest levels within BSI where key decisions are made. The work of the consumer representatives is organized and directed by a smaller group of Consumer Coordinators, who are also volunteers. Of course, CPIN couldn’t get involved in every standard that’s developed – BSI publishes around 2,500 standards a year – therefore CPIN focuses its efforts on areas that are most important to consumers in the UK.

Currently these areas are: behavioural risks, children interests, digital and privacy, health, inclusivity, product safety, services and sustainability.

Q: How can consumer organisations take part not only in monitoring of compliance with the existing international or national standards, but also in the process of shaping them? Could you tell us about the British experience on institutionalisation of ways of interaction between NGOs, lawmakers and the government in this field?

A: In addition to coordinating the work of CPIN, BSI works with the Consumer and Public Interest Forum, an open group comprising CPIN, consumer and public interest organizations and individuals, which shares relevant information about standards development and encourages participation in BSI’s standards committees The chair of CPIN together with UK consumer and public interest organizations such as Citizens Advice, National Consumer Federation, the Ombudsman Association, Electrical Safety First and the Energy Saving Trust, form BSI’s Consumer and Public Interest Strategic Advisory Committee (CPISAC). CPISAC guides the work of CPIN Consumer Representatives in terms of broad priority setting. It also links to BSI governance through providing a representative of the consumer view on the BSI committee that ultimately drives standards strategy – the BSI Standards Policy and Strategy Committee.

As you know standards are developed by standards committees. Consumer representatives who participate in these committees are trained to represent consumer positions, including the needs of vulnerable consumers, and may address issues such as data and privacy, safety, health, sustainability, services and accessibility amongst others. The Consumer and Public Interest team, which I am proud to be part of, aims to ensure the consumer voice is present in all relevant standards committees. It is very important to have government support for consumer representation. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BEIS), is involved in CPISAC and regularly attends CPI Forum meetings.

BSI CPIN representatives take part in the development of positions on standards within the national committees. Those positions are then taken to relevant European or international committees. This is the most effective way for stakeholders to affect the content of standards, as the national delegations are those who have the final vote on the acceptance of European and international standards. The work of the representatives in national committees is complemented by the work of other groups, such as ANEC in European standards development and ISO CPOLOCO internationally. By working with these groups, BSI’s CPIN seeks to maximize the impact of the consumer voice in standards throughout the world.

Q: As far as we know the International Projects Department of the British Standards Institution cooperates with partners from many countries and carries out joint different projects with them. Does BSI have any experience of cooperation with CIS countries?
The Federation expands its geography of relationship with foreign partners. I would like to know your opinion about prospects and spheres of cooperation of the British Standards Institution with the Federation both bilaterally and in the framework of multilateral donor funded projects.

A: BSI’s international projects team works on a number of project in various areas relevant to standards such as institutional capacity building of national standard bodies, market surveillance, food safety, consumer protection, metrology, technical regulation with the financial support of international donor agencies such as the European Commission, Asian Development bank, the World Bank. So the development of new BSI international projects depend on securing external funds to implement such projects and the team is open to work with international partners to develop such projects when funding is available.
In terms of the previous projects you asked about, there were quite a lot in most of the former Soviet Union countries:

To name a few:

2007-2009 – A project with Uzstandard certification and accreditation in line with international requirements Uzbekistan also took part in 3 regional projects which BSI was a partner in as well:
• INOGATE project on Energy security;
• Improvement of ecological legislation in oil and gas industry (2009-10);
• Harmonization of electricity standards – 11 countries of CIS took part in this project (except for Russia and the Baltic countries) in 2009-11
BSI’s international projects team has recently been awarded an ADB CAREC project on food safety which includes 11 partner countries: all countries of Central Asia, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Interviewed by Fakhriddin Nizamov

Additional information:

The BSI Consumer and Public Interest Network is linked in with consumer activity in standardization around the world, through ANEC, CEN and CENELEC, Consumers International and ISO COPOLCO.
ANEC – the European voice for consumers in standardization, based in Brussels, includes many UK Consumer Reps amongst its members. They provide input directly into European standards technical committees.
CEN and CENELEC – these are the European Standards Organizations.
Consumers International (CI) is the world federation of consumer groups which champions consumer rights around the world, including providing input to international standardization. CPIN is a supporter member of CI.
COPOLCO – the Consumer Policy Committee of ISO enables the consumer voice to be heard at all levels in the international standards organization, ISO.