ISO Survey: why France’s disengagement with regard to quality is worrying

In France, the number of active ISO 9001 certificates is dwindling. Other countries are doing much better, questioning both the relevance of this 2015 standard and the way the French economic fabric is getting to grips with it.

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ISO 9001 survey

France, where’s your quality? According to the latest survey carried out by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO, based on figures from various certification bodies around the world), French companies are as keen as ever to demonstrate that they place quality at the top of their priority list. Indeed the number of active ISO 9001 certificates at 31 December 2022 was similar to those of previous years: a total of 21,880 in France, exactly the same number as in 2020. A certificate covers an average of 2.8 sites, in particular sites with some metallurgical production. Please note that ISO 9001 is a voluntary standard providing guidance on the deployment of a quality management system (QMS).

When taking a closer look at the quality situation in France, things are not looking so good. First, by restricting the sample to the certification bodies which reported their figures for both 2022 and 2021, the number falls to 21,653 active certificates, i.e. 1% decrease from one year to the next. This means that longstanding certifiers’ customer portfolios are shrinking, while quality management is considered as continuous improvement, motivating companies to renew their certifications every three years, without skipping a deadline.

6,000 new ISO 9001 certificates in Germany

Then, because worldwide, the number of ISO 9001 certified companies is neither stagnating nor slightly decreasing, but has sharply risen by 12%. 1,265,216 ISO 9001 certificates were active worldwide at 31 December 2022. Almost half of these are in China: 551,000; a figure to be reduced to 531,000 on a constant sample basis. But that’s still 27% more than on 31 December 2021, bearing in mind that, roughly speaking, a Chinese certificate is valid for a single site, not several. Beijing has dealt, not quite innocently, with the new ISO 10010 standard standard on quality culture single-handedly in August 2022. Stagnation is observed in countries that are acculturated to ISO 9001-style quality management, such as Italy, Spain, and the UK, but shouldn’t the 6,000 additional certificates in Germany (with a stable sample) prompt us to speak of a French complex? France comes 10th in the ISO 9001 ranking, same as Brazil….

Breton company Armor-Lux to receive ISO 9001 certificate in September 2023 (©AFNOR/DR)
Breton company Armor-Lux to receive ISO 9001 certificate in September 2023 (©AFNOR/DR)

Finally, we can also speak of a revocation of ISO 9001 in view of the development of certificates based on other management standards: there has been a significant increase in the number of certificates issued for ISO 27001 (information security), ISO 45001 (occupational health and safety), ISO 50001 (energy management), and ISO 13485 (medical devices). The situation is similar for more tried-and-tested standards such as ISO 14001 (environmental management) and ISO 22000 (food safety), which are not as sluggish. Of course, standards such as ISO 27001 or ISO 45001 are recent and therefore benefit from the novelty effect: + 45% for ISO 45001 in France and + 29% worldwide, for example. “In France, the regulatory context has made the emergence of ISO 27001 easy by imposing or recommending its application for certain key players and their IT service providers: HDS decree, GDPR, law on electronic invoicing, NIS2, etc. The thousandth certificate has definitely already been issued in France in 2023“, notes Brice Gilbert, an expert on the topic for AFNOR Certification, without losing sight of the fact that countries such as Japan don’t have merely 927 active ISO 27001 certificates, but have reached 7,000.

ISO 9001: revising the 2015 version to breathe new life into the system?

So how can we explain France’s disengagement with regard to quality? There is no denying that the standard has been running out of steam in its 2015 version, which was developed eight years ago. The latest attempts to update it date back to 2021 and failed, although a new impetus is currently emerging. In France, there is also the issue of the coexistence of the ISO 9001 “brand” with sector-specific quality standards, such as EN 9100 in aeronautics, ISO 19443 in the nuclear industry, and IATF 16949 in the automotive industry, even if equivalences exist with the generic standard. Vincent Blache, an expert on the topic for the AFNOR Group, points out a cultural limitation: “In France, quality still rhymes a lot with products and technology, little with organization,” he says. And he explains that quality in France is split in two: “On the one hand, there are companies that want a modern, comprehensive ISO 9001, open to other concepts such as cybersecurity or CSR; and, on the other, companies that want to operate the old-fashioned way, within the confines of the factory. 

Whether you are wary or bold, we strongly recommend that you download the AFNOR study: “Quality around the world: movements and paradoxes”. “While the concept of quality differs from one country to the next, the quality of the future is likely to use a number of levers, each of which enable consumers-customers to make their own choices as to what, for them, defines the quality of a product or service“, concludes Vincent Blache.

Top 3 issues impacting quality over the next five years

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