What is a Market Based Code of Conduct for which an International Standard might apply?

As ISO ISO TC176 SC3 Quality management and quality assurance / Supporting technologies begins work in the Spring of 2003 on its mandate from the ISO Technical Management Board (TMB) to prepare an International standard for "Market Based Codes of Practice"  a first step could be to consider examples of such "Market Based Codes of Practice"

In private, unofficial,  and informal correspondence with GTW Associates, Dr Kernaghan Webb of Office of Consumer Affairs, Department of Industry, Government of Canada has provided helpful insight into use of such codes in Canada

March 17, 2003

Hi George, 

The first thing I would like to make absolutely clear is that I am in no way speaking for ISO, ISO COPOLCO, or any other entity. These are   my opinions.

A voluntary code,  codes of practice, codes of conduct, can be defined as:

- a set of voluntary commitments
- agreed to by one or more parties
- designed to influence or control behaviour
- to be applied in a consistent manner.

This is a paraphrase of the definition contained in:
Voluntary Codes: A Guide to Their Development and Use, published by the Office of Consumer Affairs.

In commercial contexts, firms put in place codes in order to signal to their customers and others that they are behaving or attempting to behave in a particular manner, and to thereby attract customers.  In terms of ISO 9000 work, my personal opinion is that codes (as voluntary commitments, etc. as per definition above) act as  techniques for prevention of complaints, working alongside complaints handling standards, and external dispute resolution, and that the three work together to create a form of "comprehensive complaints management system" which enhances the ability of organizations to continually improve and get better customer satisfaction. This is discussed in some detail in a recent Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs publication on Consumer Complaints Management for Canadian Business

A key chart from within the  publication  depicts  the relation between codes as complaints prevention mechanisms, complaints handling standards and external dispute resolution.


One example  in  Canada and in Australia is a voluntary code put in place by supermarket and other retailers concerning price accuracy of check-out scanners/readers. Pursuant to the Code, the associated retailers agree to put a sticker at their check-out areas indicating that they adhere to the Code, and they agree that if a customer finds a discrepancy between the price advertised for a particular product and the price charged, they are entitled to the product for free. This is an example of a code which acts as a complaints prevention mechanism, since there is a decreased likelihood of complaints when firms make up-front commitments about how they will treat a given problem. There is also an increased likelihood of customer satisfaction.

Another, more modest example of a code is the pizza delivery chain that says that if you don't get the pizza delivered within a set period of time, then the pizza is free. Here, the firm is making a voluntary commitment to structure its behaviour, and it is to be applied in a consistent manner. Again, this is a complaints prevention technique, since it greatly decreases the likelihood of complaints arising concerning lateness of pizza delivery. Again, it should enhance customer satisfaction.

It is possible for firms or associations to devise codes for any number of other matters. In Canada, the cable television association has devised customer satisfaction standards, which again are designed to decrease the likelihood of problems arising. All of these examples are included in the complaints handling guide I mentioned above.

Some of the  criteria that can be used to evaluate a "Code of Conduct" are presented in Voluntary Codes: A Guide to Their Development and Use, published by the Office of Consumer Affairs.  In my opinion, a standard on codes of conduct that is part of ISO 9000 would be a generic set of criteria designed to ensure that whatever codes are developed by an organization are effective and credible, and so that representations to this effect could be made. The standard would pertain to issues such as having a good process in place to ensure that the input of those affected by the code is meaningfully considered, that the language of the code is clear and in plain language so that it can be easily understood and followed, that there are incentives in place that tend to ensure that it is properly implemented, and that disincentives to improper implementation are removed, that there is regular monitoring of its effectiveness and feedback and review to ensure its continued relevance, and to ensure that the firm continually improves its products and services and enhances its customer satisfaction. 

I hope this helps!


Dr. Kernaghan Webb
Chief of Research and Senior Legal Policy Advisor
Office of Consumer Affairs
Department of Industry, Government of Canada
255 Albert St.,
Room 1013,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1A 0H5

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