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Davos 2009 - ISO highlights contribution of International Standards to global challenges

For the fourth year running, ISO participated in the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), this time through the active involvement of ISO Deputy Secretary-General Kevin McKinley in many sessions where International Standards offer solutions to address global challenges.

The theme of the WEF 39th annual meeting, held from 28 January to 1 February 2009 in Davos, Switzerland, was "Shaping the post-crisis world". The objective was to catalyze a more inclusive, integrated and systematic approach to improving the state of the world.

This year's forum attracted some 2 500 participants from 96 countries, including 41 heads of state or government and a record number of more than 1 400 chief executives and chairpersons from the world’s leading companies. The meeting was organized along six programme tracks:

  • Promoting stability in the financial system and reviving global economic growth
  • Ensuring effective global, regional and national governance for the long term
  • Addressing the challenges of sustainability and development
  • Shaping the values and leadership principles for a post-crisis world
  • Catalyzing the next wave of growth through innovation, science and technology
  • Understanding the implications for industry models

With the world economy in the middle of its deepest downturn in 40 years, global leaders discussed the need to balance immediate measures with longer-term ones. There was agreement that, firstly, governments needed to intervene with fiscal measures to restore commerce and positive market conditions, while in the longer term, public and private investment was needed in energy efficiency, renewable energies and tackling climate change.

A lack of confidence in the market-place was also a prevailing theme at this year's event, along with an expressed need for responsible corporate behaviour, more realistic valuation of risks and the need for appropriate oversight of financial markets.

Kevin McKinley commented: "ISO's existing contributions to these challenges are already extensive. International Standards provide a common global lexicon for matters of trade, health, safety, security, communication, and such interconnected challenges as climate change, energy, water and development.  

"ISO's comprehensive catalogue of testing, sampling and measurement standards provides the comparability of and confidence in results for improved food safety and nutrition, increased well-being and effective commerce.

"ISO's development of standards on good management practice provides frameworks for improved quality management, environmental performance, risk-based decision-making, business continuity and social responsibility.

"Finally, ISO's conformity assessment standards further contribute to global consistency and confidence in the results of inspection, certification and accreditation."

In an interactive session on "Mending holes in the food safety net", the ISO Deputy Secretary-General, who was one of the panellists, commented on global food safety challenges facing both developed and developing countries and described to global leaders how multi-stakeholder, consensus-based voluntary standards can complement food safety measures taken by governments and implemented by industry.

Kevin McKinley's fellow panellists included the Chairman and CEO of Burger King Corporation; the Chairman and CEO of General Mills; the Agricultural Minister of Tanzania, and a leading author on food safety issues. The session was facilitated by Joost Martens, Director General of Consumers International.

This theme of using ISO consensus-based voluntary standards was also raised as an effective means of implementing best practices in addressing broader social issues.  In another session, panellists discussed progress made in the 10 years since the United Nations "Global Compact" was announced at Davos by then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. Panellists concurred that an International Standard such as ISO 26000 on social responsibility had merits in today’s world.

Going forward from Davos 2009, existing and potential new ISO International Standards will assist businesses to weather the economic crisis and can help guide their activities towards renewed stability and sustained success.  

ISO standards can assist global business to:

  • Improve product/service quality
  • Reduce business and transactional costs through operational efficiencies
  • Reduce rework and mistakes
  • Increase trust and customer confidence
  • Ensure product/service compatibility, and
  • Help provide products and services that comply with applicable regulations.

The pressing challenges evoked at Davos will also help ISO to orient its own consideration of key priorities to be addressed in its Strategic Plan 2011-2015. A consultation of ISO members and key international organization will begin in the coming weeks to provide input on the future direction of international standardization to face not only the current crisis, but to also provide a sustainable future for all.