FAQ 43

Consider the case where an inspection body (IB) is a public enterprise that reports administratively to a Ministry. The Board and the Director General of the IB are appointed by the Ministry, and the IB reports financial results and overall performance to the Ministry. The Ministry requires assurance on the quality of grains, cereals and pulses for export and also requires an assurance of the same as imported into the country. The Ministry submits the sample to the IB, and following inspection, the inspection report is submitted to the Ministry for acceptance or rejection of the batch. The Ministry is the biggest client of the IB, with over 90% of the order volume coming from the Ministry.

Does this inspection body qualify as a type A inspection body?

STANDARD: ISO/IEC 17020  ·  CLAUSE: Clause 4.1.6  ·  TOPIC: Independence


The situation described is not acceptable for a type A inspection body.

The scope statement in ISO/IEC 17020 makes clear that one of the major aims of the standard is to ensure the impartiality and consistency of inspection activities.

According to ISO/IEC 17020, Annex A.1d) the following apply to inspection bodies type A:
“The inspection body shall not be linked to a separate legal entity engaged in the design, manufacture, supply, installation, purchase, ownership, use or maintenance of the items inspected by the following:
– Directly reporting to the same higher level of management, except where this cannot influence the outcome of an inspection
– Contractual commitments, or other means that may have an ability to influence the outcome of an inspection.”
In the case described the inspection body fails on both counts.
i) The inspection body reports to the Ministry that has a critical role in the supply chain of the products inspected and has a very plausible path for exerting influence.
ii) The contractual arrangement between the inspection body and the Ministry means that failing to follow directives from the Ministry could pose an existential threat to the inspection body or its senior management.

Two possibilities needs to be considered:
a. Does the Ministry have a supplier interest by its role in the provision of grains, cereals and pulses?
b. Does the Ministry have a user interest by its role in the provision of grains, cereals and pulses?

While the Ministry may or may not directly buy or sell the inspected products, the Ministry has a critical role in the supply chain of the inspected products as its declared role is to control imports and exports.
a. The impartiality requirements are all about incentives that organizations have that might result in bias in the inspection activities. An organization that engages in the supply of grains, cereals and pulses has incentives to be biased toward a favorable outcome for the inspection activities. The Ministry’s declared objective is to assure that no substandard grains, cereals or pulses leave or come in to the country. However, Ministries implement policies that are essentially political and therefore the Ministry could plausibly have political motives to influence the results of inspections. For example, if the Government has pledged to reduce imports, to support local producers, there could be pressure on the inspection body from the Ministry to fail imported marginal products.
b. For exports the Ministry has the declared interest of the user of these products in the foreign country, as the Ministry wants to assure these users never receive substandard products. However, if the Government has made commitments to increase exports, exerting pressure on the inspection body to pass marginal products would be a plausible means of increasing export tonnage without bringing in unpopular quality controls on producers. It would be naïve to believe that Ministries did not follow the direction of their Ministers, including wielding influence wherever possible to achieve the targets set for them.

As the Ministry appoints the senior management of the inspection body and presumably reviews their performance, there is a clear path for pressure to be applied. Also, in any economy, the possibility for a Minister to subtly apply pressure through the Ministries they oversee should not be disregarded.

From the description provided it is clear that the inspection body is not independent of the Ministry. In the situation described it seems that the inspection body and the client directly report to the same higher level of management. The situation that 90% of inspection orders are coming from the same source, means that there is a shared interest between the inspection body and its client. The circumstances described are such that they can influence the outcome of an inspection.