ISO celebrates 70th anniversary



 

The story of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) began in 1946 when delegates from 25 countries gathered in London to discuss the future of standardisation. A year later, on 23 February 1947, ISO officially came into existence. In this post-war era, the founding members saw international standards as a key to the world’s reconstruction efforts.

Upon its creation, the purpose of the fledgling organisation was to facilitate the coordination and unification of standards developed by its member bodies, all of which were national standardisation entities in their respective countries. The founders decided that the organisation would be open to every country wanting to collaborate – with equal rights and equal duties. Today, the ISO family has grown to include 163 members from almost every country in the world.

 

Following the creation of the organisation, 67 groups of experts (called technical committees) were set up in specific technical fields such as screw threads, marine technology, food, textiles, paints and laboratory equipment with a mandate to develop international standards. This led to the first ISO standard in 1951: ISO/R 1:1951 “Standard reference temperature for industrial length measurements”. Since then, the ISO portfolio has expanded to include over 22 000 standards supporting all the important technological, environmental and social changes that have taken place in the world.

ISO has worked hard over the years to broaden its circle of stakeholders, bringing different audiences to standardisation, such as consumers or developing countries. The 1950s saw a number of new ISO member bodies join the organisation from the developing world. To respond to these members’ needs, the ISO Committee was set up in 1961 for developing country matters (ISO/DEVCO). Today, three-quarters of ISO’s members are from developing countries.

Helping to improve the satisfaction and safety of consumers is another vital role of standards. Integrating their views in standards development is, therefore, essential because these real-life perspectives help ensure that issues such as safety and quality are adequately addressed. The importance of consumer leverage was endorsed by the creation of a Council Committee on Consumer Policy in 1978, now officially known as the ISO Committee on consumer policy (ISO/COPOLCO), to promote and encourage consumer interests in standards.

Effective and wide-reaching stakeholder engagement is essential in maintaining the relevance of international standards. To ensure a strong relationship between standards and innovation, ISO has built collaborative ties with a network of global and regional organisations, including a partnership with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and has forged links with over 700 international organisations working in fields related to standardisation. Furthermore, the contribution of large and small businesses, regulatory authorities and governments throughout the world is fundamental to the proper functioning of ISO.

ISO president Dr. Zhang Xiaogang says that from the standardisation of materials, components and equipment for the aerospace or automotive industry to the measurement of environmental pollutants, from establishing a management system to ensure food safety in the supply chain to creating guidelines for human-robot interaction, the need for international standardisation has always evolved with the needs of industry and society.

Contact Katie Bird, ISO, bird@iso.org

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