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ISO New Work Items Proposed for External Customer Dispute Resolution and Market-based Codes of Conduct

August 9th Comment Deadline Set for U.S. Interests

New York, Jul 23, 2002

The Consumer Policy Committee (COPOLCO) of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has put forward two proposals for new international standards that could have a significant impact on consumer protection in the global marketplace. The committee has recommended international standards in the areas of External Customer Dispute Resolution Systems and Market-based Codes of Conduct to establish criteria for cross-border transactions.

According to the proposal for External Customer Dispute Resolution Systems, this initiative is designed to supply an avenue of appeal when a supplier cannot remedy a complaint internally. These systems have become popular for domestic business-to-consumer transactions in many countries across a wide variety of industries and have been especially useful in electronic commerce transactions. Consensus-based criteria in this field are intended to supplement or compliment dispute resolution mechanisms already in place and, where none exist, to provide a process for customers to obtain redress when internal complaints handling processes do not provide resolution. The purpose of the standard would be to set internationally recognized and harmonized elements of effective dispute resolution systems that would provide a fair result in the marketplace as well as give industry the capacity to recognize and address systemic consumer problems. The proposal contends that the potential benefits of implementing such a standard are numerous for business, consumers and regulatory agencies alike. One of the more persuasive arguments for standards in this area is that they would provide a tailored, efficient and effective response that reflects company needs for efficiency and consumer needs for increased confidence as well as providing some relief to regulatory authorities as complaints can be handled via alternate means.

The intent of the proposal for Market-based Codes of Conduct is to establish a set of consensus-based essential criteria for developing and implementing codes of conduct, i.e., a set of commitments to consumers regarding a company's products or services. With the increasing globalization of trade, the proposal argues, it is essential that fair trading principles are applied internationally as national standards by themselves may not be sufficient to protect consumer interests. The proposed standard would provide consumer confidence that a set of commitments embodied in codes have been developed and implemented in accordance with consensus-based criteria and transparent procedures, which is especially relevant in the global marketplace and in electronic commerce transactions. These codes may take the form of benchmarks, self-declared claims or industry guidelines. The proposal notes that to decrease the need for new regulations and to compliment existing legal regimes many governments are turning to market-based approaches as an additional means of addressing industry behavior. In addition, it is maintained that businesses will also benefit from a standard on code development and implementation as this will help to create a level playing field for large and small businesses alike to comply with, regardless of location. Properly constructed, the potential benefits of codes will increase consumer confidence and competitiveness and hence contribute to the development of the global market.

ANSI members are requested to comment on the proposals Friday, August 9, 2002. In addition, members are invited to share their opinions on the preferred ISO Technical Committee to develop the initiatives, if approved. Both proposals emanate from the COPOLCO working group Consumer Protection in the Global Marketplace, which has recommended that they be allocated to the ISO (TC) 176 Subcommittee (SC) 3, Quality Management and Quality Assurance, Supporting Technologies, contending that they are part of an organization's quality management regime.

For additional information, or to obtain a copy of the proposals, please contact James McCabe, ANSI's director of consumer relations and member services, at (t) 292.642.8921 or (e)

ANSI Focus on Services Standards