The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has provided useful technical standards that can compete with other standards. However, there is increasing international marketing and legislative coercion to comply with its “voluntary consensus standards” for control of employee behaviour. The ISO 9000 series is the prototype social control standard. From it have flowed much more stringent standards such as ISO 17025 which supposedly assures the validity of laboratory measurements, and ISO 15189 for the management of clinical pathology laboratories. These are ISO 9000 with ‘roid rage.
ISO 14000 for the environment and ISO 26000 for social responsibility have also been published. These show an isolated and bizarre view of quality, defined as inspectability, lies behind their conception.
Consumers use factors like brand and reputation to easily and cheaply identify the level of quality they want. Inspectors use their redefinition of quality as justification for enforcing a defined series of bureaucratic rituals which can be expensively inspected. Illustrating this, ISO 26000 has proved unsuitable for accreditation bodies such as the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to monopolise because it contains guidance rather than firm requirements. It is of no use to UKAS because it cannot be used as the basis for inspection.
The ISO management standards were derived from Anglo-American military specifications. In their day, these were thought to be the best methods to prevent explosions during munitions manufacture and were designed to assure fulfilment of naval contracts from World War II and through the Cold War when industrial relations and new technologies presented major industrial problems. The standards were designed to assure delivery on contracts and the employment of inspectors rather than satisfied customers. They are a relic of scientific management the ISO was persuaded to adopt by the British Standards Institute (BSI).
Effectively, the standards are a codification of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and tend to transmit this defective thinking to their victims. Failure to recognise the social control standards as distinct from technical standards is a significant factor in the deterioration of working life, a source of unnecessary stress, and a massive waste of resources. The world’s best companies delight customers by controlling quality, not by dictating and recording the minutia of human actions.
These standards have the potential to achieve a degree of human control that other world government organisations have failed to. The problem is broader than overt accreditation by the international quality cartel. Systems related to this philosophy of professional suspicion are arising in many other fields, particularly in healthcare. A framework of totalitarian control is hidden behind a cloak of dreary professional proceduralism. Professionals have permitted this growth by failing to think outside their discipline and to challenge this pathological world view. Those committed to freedom must work for the rejection of such standards and to replace them with personal and professional actions of higher quality.