A technical standard is an established norm or requirement for a repeatable technical task which is applied to a common and repeated use of rules, conditions, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, and related management systems practices. A technical standard includes definition of terms; classification of components; delineation of procedures; specification of dimensions, materials, performance, designs, or operations; measurement of quality and quantity in describing materials, processes, products, systems, services, or practices; test methods and sampling procedures; or descriptions of fit and measurements of size or strength.[1]

It is usually a formal document that establishes uniform engineering or technical criteria, methods, processes, and practices. In contrast, a custom, convention, company product, corporate standard, and so forth that becomes generally accepted and dominant is often called a de facto standard.

A technical standard may be developed privately or unilaterally, for example by a corporation, regulatory body, military, etc. Standards can also be developed by groups such as trade unions and trade associations. Standards organizations often have more diverse input and usually develop voluntary standards: these might become mandatory if adopted by a government (i.e., through legislation), business contract, etc.

The standardization process may be by edict or may involve the formal consensus[2] of technical experts.


The primary types of technical standards are:


Technical standards are defined [5] as:


Technical standards may exist as:

Geographic levels

When a geographically defined community must solve a community-wide coordination problem, it can adopt an existing standard or produce a new one. The main geographic levels are:

National/Regional/International standards is one way of overcoming technical barriers in inter-local or inter-regional commerce caused by differences among technical regulations and standards developed independently and separately by each local, local standards organisation, or local company. Technical barriers arise when different groups come together, each with a large user base, doing some well established thing that between them is mutually incompatible. Establishing national/regional/international standards is one way of preventing or overcoming this problem. To further support this, the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee published the "Six Principles" guiding members in the development of international standards.[8]


The existence of a published standard does not imply that it is always useful or correct. For example, if an item complies with a certain standard, there is not necessarily assurance that it is fit for any particular use. The people who use the item or service (engineers, trade unions, etc.) or specify it (building codes, government, industry, etc.) have the responsibility to consider the available standards, specify the correct one, enforce compliance, and use the item correctly. Validation of suitability is necessary.

Standards often get reviewed, revised and updated on a regular basis. It is critical that the most current version of a published standard be used or referenced. The originator or standard writing body often has the current versions listed on its web site.

In social sciences, including economics, a standard is useful if it is a solution to a coordination problem: it emerges from situations in which all parties realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions.


Parties Mutual gains Problem Solution
Mechanical industry companies Suppliers interchange, stock gains, etc. Screw thread compatibility Screw thread standard specifications
Pharmaceutical industry and medic community Enable medical prescriptions, suppliers interchange, etc. Drug uniformity Drug standard specifications
Banks and specialized payment cards companies Enable Credit card holder to pay a merchant for goods and services Credit card uniformity Credit card Technical specifications

Private Standards (consortia)

Private standards are developed by private entities such as companies, non-governmental organizations or private sector multi-stakeholder initiatives, also referred to as multistakeholder governance. Not all technical standards are created equal. In the development of a technical standard, private standards adopt a non-consensus process in comparison to voluntary consensus standards. This is explained in the paper International standards and private standards.[9]

The International Trade Centre published a literature review series with technical papers on the impacts of private standards[10][11][12][13] and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a number of papers in relation to the proliferation of private food safety standards in the agri-food industry, mostly driven by standard harmonization under the multistakeholder governance of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).[14][15][16][17] With concerns around private standards and technical barriers to trade (TBT), and unable to adhere to the TBT Committee's Six Principles for the development of international standards because private standards are non-consensus, the WTO does not rule out the possibility that the actions of private standard-setting bodies may be subject to WTO law.[18][19]

BSI Group compared private food safety standards with "plugs and sockets", explaining the food sector is full of "confusion and complexity". Also, "the multiplicity of standards and assurance schemes has created a fragmented and inefficient supply chain structure imposing unnecessary costs on businesses that have no choice but to pass on to consumers".[20] BSI provide examples of other sectors working with a single international standard; ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 14001 (environment), ISO 45001 (occupational health and safety), ISO 27001 (information security) and ISO 22301 (business continuity). Another example of a sector working with a single international standard is ISO 13485 (medical devices), which is adopted by the International Medical Device Regulators Forum (IMDRF).

In 2020, Fairtrade International, and in 2021, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) issued position statements[21][22] defending their use of private standards in response to reports from The Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (MSI Integrity)[23] and Greenpeace.[24]

Private standards typically require a financial contribution in terms of an annual fee from the organizations who adopt the standard. Corporations are encouraged to join the board of governance of the standard owner[25] which enables reciprocity. Meaning corporations have permission to exert influence over the requirements in the standard, and in return the same corporations promote the standards in their supply chains which generates revenue and profit for the standard owner. Financial incentives with private standards can result in a perverse incentive, where some private standards are created solely with the intent of generating money. BRCGS, as scheme owner of private standards, was acquired in 2016 by LGC Ltd who were owned by private equity company Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.[26] This acquisition triggered substantial increases in BRCGS annual fees.[27] In 2019, LGC Ltd was sold to private equity companies Cinven and Astorg.[28]

See also


  1. ^ "Developing Operational Requirements: A Guide to the Cost-Effective and Efficient Communication of Needs" (PDF). US Department of Homeland Security. November 2008. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 October 2021. Retrieved 23 September 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ Example of TAPPI standards development regulations
  3. ^ "Standard Specifications". Oregon.gov. Oregon.gov. Archived from the original on 22 April 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  4. ^ "Operational Limits and Conditions and Operating Procedures for Nuclear Power Plants Safety Guide". International Atomic Energy Association. IAEA. Archived from the original on 28 June 2018. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  5. ^ "CIRCULAR NO. A-119 Revised" (PDF). whitehouse.gov. The White House. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 December 2017. Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  6. ^ "Private standards". Unido.org. United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Archived from the original on 9 October 2021. Retrieved 20 September 2021.
  7. ^ Example: SAE International copyright policy Archived 2012-11-12 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Principles for the Development of International Standards, Guides and Recommendations". wto.org. World Trade Organization. Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 20 September 2021.
  9. ^ International standards and private standards. International Organization for Standardization. 2010. ISBN 978-92-67-10518-5. Archived from the original on 6 October 2021. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  10. ^ "Part I The Impacts of Private Standards on Global Value Chains". intracen.org. International Trade Centre (ITC). Archived from the original on 2023-01-30. Retrieved 2023-02-22.
  11. ^ "Part II The Impacts of Private Standards on Producers in Developing Countries". intracen.org. International Trade Centre (ITC). Archived from the original on 2023-02-09. Retrieved 2023-02-22.
  12. ^ "Part III The Interplay of Public and Private Standards". intracen.org. International Trade Centre (ITC). Archived from the original on 2023-02-01. Retrieved 2023-02-22.
  13. ^ "Part IV When do Private Standards work?". intracen.org. International Trade Centre (ITC). Archived from the original on 2023-01-29. Retrieved 2023-02-22.
  14. ^ Dankers, Cora (2007). Private Standards in the United States and European Union Markets for Fruit and Vegetables: Implications for Developing Countries. Rome: FAO. ISBN 978-92-5-105779-7. Archived from the original on 2021-09-29. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  15. ^ Henson, Spencer; Humphrey, John (2009). The Impacts of Private Food Safety Standards on the Food Chain and on Public Standard-Setting Processes (PDF). FAO. ISBN 978-92-5-106430-6. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-10-08. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  16. ^ Private Food Safety Standards: Their Role in Food Safety Regulation and their Impact. Food and Agriculture Organization. 2010. Archived from the original on 2021-09-29. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  17. ^ Washington, Sally (2011). Private standards and certification in fisheries and aquaculture. FAO. ISBN 978-92-5-106730-7. Archived from the original on 2021-09-29. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  18. ^ McMahon, Joe (May 16, 2022). "Responsibility for Private Standards in the World Trade Organisation". ssrn.com/. SSRN. doi:10.2139/ssrn.4111149. S2CID 249168822. SSRN 4111149. Archived from the original on February 20, 2023. Retrieved February 20, 2023.
  19. ^ Thorstensen, Vera Helena; Weissinger, Reinhard; Xinhua, Sun (September 2015). "Private Standards—Implications for Trade, Development, and Governance". The E15 Initiative. ISSN 2313-3805. Archived from the original on 2023-05-30. Retrieved 2023-05-30.
  20. ^ Horlock, David. "Collaborate, innovate and accelerate; how standards build consensus and facilitate trade". bsigroup.com. BSI. Archived from the original on 2021-10-01. Retrieved 2021-10-01.
  21. ^ "Fit for purpose?". fairtrade.net. Fairtrade International. 2020. Archived from the original on 2021-10-17. Retrieved 2021-10-17.
  22. ^ "PEFC response to Greenpeace report "Destruction: Certified"". pefc.org. PEFC. 11 March 2021. Archived from the original on 17 October 2021. Retrieved 17 October 2021.
  23. ^ MSI Integrity, Not Fit-for-Purpose: The Grand Experiment of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Corporate Accountability, Human Rights and Global Governance. MSI Integrity. July 2020. Archived from the original on 2021-10-17. Retrieved 2021-10-17.
  24. ^ "Destruction: Certified". greenpeace.org. Greenpeace International. 10 March 2021. Archived from the original on 22 October 2021. Retrieved 17 October 2021.
  25. ^ "Governance". brcgs.com. BRCGS. Archived from the original on 2023-05-03. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  26. ^ "LGC acquires BRCGS". lgcgroup.com. LGC. Archived from the original on 21 September 2021. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  27. ^ "BRC service fee increase 2022". techni-k.co.uk. Techni-K. Archived from the original on 2023-04-21. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  28. ^ "KKR scores 3x return on sale of LGC to Cinven & Astorg". penews.com. Private Equity News. Archived from the original on 21 September 2021. Retrieved 21 September 2021.

Further reading