Conformity assessment is the process used to show that a product, service or system meets specified requirements. These requirements are likely to be contained in an ISO standard. But, ISO itself does not perform conformity assessments.
Showing that a product, service or system meets certain requirements has a number of benefits:
ISO has produced standards to help make conformity assessment activities as uniform as possible. These standards explain what a body needs to do to be seen as capable of performing conformity assessments such as laboratory testing, inspection or management system certification.
The benefits of harmonizing conformity assessment activities are numerous. Among other things, it helps facilitate global trade. For example, a country exporting groundnuts to another country sends the product with a test report that classifies the groundnuts. If the importing country does not have confidence in the test report, it will have to do its own testing, wasting valuable time and money. ISO’s work on the harmonization of conformity assessment activities helps raise confidence and therefore facilitates the movement of goods across national borders.
A way to further increase confidence in the conformity assessments activities between countries is to make a formal agreement called a Mutual Recognition Agreement or Arrangement (MRA). This is an agreement between two countries to recognise the results of each other’s testing, inspection, certification or accreditation. MRAs help reduce the multiple conformity assessment activities that products, services and systems need to undergo when they are traded across borders.
Conformity assessment documents developed by the ISO Committee on conformity assessment (CASCO) are used worldwide to check whether products, services, materials, processes, systems and personnel measure up to the requirements of standards, regulations or other specifications. Assessments based on these documents give confidence, facilitate access to world markets and provide domestic and international socio-economic benefits
The main forms of conformity assessment are certification, inspection and testing.