ISO’s work makes a positive difference to the world we live in. ISO standards add value to all types of business operations. They contribute to making the development, manufacturing and supply of products and services more efficient, safer and cleaner. They make trade between countries easier and fairer. ISO standards also serve to safeguard consumers and users of products and services in general - as well as making their lives simpler.
Not "what", but "who"! Our standards are often highly technical - and they need to be - but they're developed for people by people. So who we are is a network of the national standards institutes of some 130 countries, with a central office in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system and publishes the finished standards.
All strategic decisions are referred to the ISO members, who meet for an annual General Assembly. The proposals puts to the members are developed by the ISO Council, drawn from the membership as a whole, which resembles the board of directors of a business organization. Council meets three times a year and its membership is rotated to ensure that it is representative of ISO's membership. Operations are managed by a secretary-general, which is a permanent appointment. The secretary-general reports to a President, who is a prominent figure in standardization or in business, elected for two years.
When the large majority of products or services in a particular business or industry sector conform to International Standards, a state of industry-wide standardization can be said to exist. This is achieved through consensus agreements between national delegations representing all the economic stakeholders concerned - suppliers, users and, often, governments. They agree on specifications and criteria to be applied consistently in the classification of materials, the manufacture of products and the provision of services. In this way, International Standards provide a reference framework, or a common technological language, between suppliers and their customers - which facilitates trade and the transfer of technology.
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For customers, the worldwide compatibility of technology which is achieved when products and services are based on International Standards brings them an increasingly wide choice of offers, and they also benefit from the effects of competition among suppliers.
ISO's national members pay subscriptions that meet the operational cost of ISO's Central Secretariat. The dues paid by each member are in proportion to the country's GNP and trade figures. Another source of revenue is the sale of standards, which covers 30% of the budget. However, the operations of the central office represent only about one fifth of the cost of the system's operation. The main costs are borne by the organizations, which manage the specific projects or loan experts to participate in the technical work. These organizations are, in effect, subsidizing the technical work by paying the travel costs of the experts and allowing them time to work on their ISO assignments.
Not as individuals or as enterprises - although both have a range of opportunities for taking part in ISO's work, or in contributing to the development of standards through the ISO member in their country. Membership of ISO is open to national standards institutes or similar organizations most representative of standardization in their country (one member in each country). Full members each have one vote, whatever the size or strength of the economy of the country concerned. This means that they can all make their voices heard in the development of standards, which are important to their country's industry. ISO also has two categories of membership for countries with fewer resources. Although such members do not have a vote, they can remain up to date on standardization developments.
ISO is a non-governmental organization (NGO). Therefore, unlike the United Nations, the national members of ISO are not delegations of the governments of those countries. As far as those national members are concerned, some are wholly private sector in origin, others are private sector organizations but have a special mandate from their governments on matters related to standardization, while still others are part of the governmental framework of their countries. In addition, government experts often participate in ISO's standards' development work. So, while ISO is an NGO, it receives input from the public sector as it does from the private sector.