Big Third Party Certifiers and the Construction of Transnational Regulation

Friday, 3 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW2.3.04 (Tower Two)
Jean-Pierre Galland, Ecole des Ponts Paris Tech, LATTS, IFRIS, Marne la Vallée, France
Third party certification has become, in a very large series of sectors, the favourite way by which producers ensure that the products or the services they want to put on markets comply with standards (Marx, 2011; Bartley, 2010). The dramatic growth of third party certification “demand”, since a few decades, all over the world,  has had two complementary consequences: more and more (new) third party certifiers were born, but also, a few among the oldest of them extended their activities through different ways.  

In this communication, I will show and analyse some ways by which a few private and technical bodies, which used to be mainly active inside their respective domestic European Member State, progressively became Big Third Party Certifiers (BTPC), and then Transnational Regulatory Intermediaries (Levi-Faur & Starobin, 2014). I will mainly focus on and tell a few “stories” about a French one, Bureau Veritas (BV).

As Loconto and Busch (2010) suggest, I analyse the expansion of standards through a Tripartite Standard Regime (TSR), which puts the light on different actors inside 3 processes: the standard setting phase, the certification phase, and the accreditation (“certification of the certifiers”) phase.  The TSR model is useful because it helps both to separate this 3 phases and to study their relationships.

For a deeper understanding of the relationships between standard setters, certifiers, accreditors, and also public authorities, I first present and contrast not one but two different TSR Models.

The first one has been largely built in the European Construction framework. With the New Approach to technical harmonization and standardization (1985), the European Commission and the Member States invented  an original way for regulating industrial products markets and their risks in Europe, and  helped the creation of specific third party certifiers, the “Notified Bodies” (Galland, 2013).   European authorities also obliged Member States so that each of them would set up a unique Accreditation body, as a non for profit and multi-sector based organisation. Another main characteristic of this first TSR Model is that the actors of each of its phases (standard setting, certification, accreditation) must be, on principle, strictly different.  

The second TSR model I schematise has historically been elaborated for “sustainability” purposes. In this case, private stakeholders (industrials, retailers, ONG, …) decide, without and sometimes against public authorities, to set up standards for the “sustainable use” of such or such product (wood in the much studied case of the Forest Stewardship Council  for instance); the conformity of the concerned products with these standards will be checked by third party certifiers, which would be appointed by a sector based accreditation body close to, or even stemmed from  the standard setters organization itself (Nussbaum and al., 2000). Because it concerned many diverse “sustainability” purposes, this model has generated not only many third party certifiers, but also several sector based accreditation bodies.

Nowadays, these two ideal-type TSR models are simultaneously competing and hybridizing (Loconto & Fouilleux, 2014). My hypothesis is that BTPC, such as BV, play an important role according to these evolutions.  BV expanded geographically its traditional activities, first from France to Europe, then at the World level, inside industrial sectors driven by TSR Model N°1. It grew sometimes with the help of French public authorities, sometimes when by passing them. More recently, BV entered a few sectors of the “sustainability field” and then TSR Model N°2: it is for instance accredited for certifying the Marine Stewardship Council Standards and is also involved in “Green Buildings” certification, through a strategic partnership with the US Green Building Certification Institute, for promoting the green building rating system LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).  The progressive opening of BTPCs, such as BV, towards always new sectors need to be analysed, not only for considering how much these private bodies take a growing part in the global regulation of activities, but also because BTPCs  could be now in a sufficient position so to impose to public authorities or private stakeholders their own certification practices. We may wonder for instance whether BTPCs’ own organizations, with their own geographical and/or sector based subcontractors, do influence the ways by which conformity assessments certificates are delivered, all around the world and in a growing series of sectors; in other words, whether theses  Transnational Intermediaries proper organization and own practices affect the content and effectiveness of regulation.  


-          Bartley, 2010, Certification as a mode of social regulation, Jerusalem Papers in Regulation & Governance, Working Paper N°8.

-          Galland JP, 2013, “The difficulties of regulating markets and risks in Europe through Notified Bodies”, European Journal of Risk Regulation, Vol. 4, N°3, pp 365-373.

-          Levi-Faur D., Starobin S.M., 2014, Transnational politics and policy: from two-way to three-way interactions, Jerusalem Papers in Regulation and Governance, Working Paper N°62.

-          Loconto A., Busch L, 2010, “Standards, techno-economic networks and playing fields: Performing the global market economy”, Review of International Political Economy, 17:3, 507-536.

-          Loconto A., Fouilleux E., 2014, “Politics of private regulation: ISEAL and the shaping of transnational sustainability governance”, Regulation & Governance N°8, pp 166-185.

-          Marx A., 2011, “Global governance and the certification revolution: types, trends and challenges”, in Levi-Faur D., Handbook on the politics of regulation, Eward Elgar.

-           Nussbaum R., Garforth M., Scrase H., Wenban-Smith M., 2000,   An analysis of current FSC Accreditation, Certification and Standard Setting procedures, DFID Project R7589 Forestry Research Programme, 23 p.