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World Standards Day 2019: Laying the foundations for a better world

To mark World Standards Day 2019, our Advocacy Manager Antonino Serra outlines why international standards have such a pivotal role to play in making the products and services we use on a daily basis better, safer and more sustainable.

In our daily lives, we often rely on routines. Preparing food for breakfast, checking weather information on mobile phones, televisions or radios. Many of us rely on cars, bicycles or public transport systems to get to work. When we shop for food, we rely on pricing, nutritional and even sustainability information to make our purchase decisions. When browsing the internet, we interact with websites or applications that enable us to consume information or communicate with colleagues, family and friends.

In each of these acts, there is a common denominator – a standard. Standards are in place to protect us, to ensure the products and services we use are safe, reliable and as we would expect. Over 22,000 international standards have been published by the International Standards Organization (ISO), and they lay the foundations for a digital world that respects our right to privacy and security, a safer world that prevents hazardous products from coming to market, and a more sustainable world where governments, industry and consumers can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

This year, the theme of the World Standards Day is the contribution made by the International Standards Organization for the development and interoperability of different video formats, an essential issue for a digital and visual society like the one we are living in.

And with breakthrough capabilities such as deepfake video technology, there is no better time to be having a wider discussion about the present and future role standards can have in protecting consumers from potentially threatening trends, not just in the world of video but across many areas.

Standards are the foundation for a healthier planet

For Consumers International and its members, getting involved in the world of technical standards is an important part of protecting consumers globally. Standards are the 'silent and often forgotten foundations' upon which our societies are built. They can be a benchmark for building technology that serves us all and products and services that do not undermine the sustainability of our planet.

This is why we are proud to work with and support influential and impactful standards organisations such as ISO and ANEC, the European Consumer Voice in Standardisation, and participate as members of COPOLCO’s Chair Advisory Group, which works to deliver the strategy and policies set by this Policy Committee, and to ensure the consumer voice is projected into ISO’s general strategy and work.

As a co-chair of COPOLCO’s Working Group 3, ‘Consumer Participation and training’, Consumers International plays an important role in ensuring consumer groups can project their knowledge and expertise into the development of technical standards. By providing training and support to our members who want to engage with international standards, it is possible to build global guidelines that can apply across multiple regions and national borders.

Most recently, we joined members and standards organisations in Zimbabwe, where a mentoring scheme was established for stakeholders involved in implementing consumer policy and work on standards in Africa, and the idea is to bring this scheme to other regions.

International standards on privacy, vulnerability and the sharing economy

In 2019, Consumers International has been actively participating in technical and policy committees that are developing some essential standards for the digital world: Vulnerable Consumers (ISO TC 311), Privacy by Design (ISO PC 317) and Sharing Economy (ISO TC 324). In each one of them, we are working on the elaboration of detail in each standard, ensuring the consumer voice is represented and working to reach a consensus with other stakeholders.

Privacy by design

Our research shows that consumer trust, especially in the context of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, is being eroded due to concerns over privacy and security. In the case of Privacy by Design, Standard ISO PC 317 would be an invaluable tool to ensure that products and services incorporate key principles to protect privacy as they are taken from concept to market, principles which must be taken into account throughout the engineering and manufacturing process. The standards should be applied to any personal or household equipment that processes personal data, including hardware and software.

The Sharing Economy 

In 2019, the global sharing economy’s explosive growth has been met by increased scrutiny and regulation. This growth adds complexity to the way we consume, with the emergence of the ‘asset-light consumer’ who relies on renting, rather than owning, many of their possessions. The Sharing Economy standard will provide a clear set of guidelines for consumers, providers, platform owners and workers that the sharing economy businesses should adhere to – covering the social, economic and environmental implications of peer-to-peer (P2P) commerce. It will address the relationships between those who provide goods and services through P2P platforms, and the platforms that act as a liaison.

By taking action to comply with a standard such as this, platforms such as Airbnb, Uber and TaskRabbit can build consumer trust by signaling their commitment to consumer protection and contributing to progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Inclusive services

Vulnerability is a concept – and a condition – that continues to evolve in the content of a fast-paced digital world: our ability to decode, understand, and protect ourselves from vulnerable situations is continuously being tested. The standard for Inclusive Services would provide guidance for identifying situations that can make consumers vulnerable, and how organisations can avoid, prevent and/or respond to those situations.

There are other issues that we consider very important for consumers that we follow within the context of international standards, such as environmental management, quality control and consumer satisfaction, and Artificial Intelligence, to name a few.

This World Standards Day, we reaffirm our commitment to working with members, partners and other relevant stakeholders through ISO COPOLCO. Together, we can ensure that consumers have a voice in standardisation, and international standards continue to react and address the most significant trends and emerging issues affecting consumers globally.