A Glossary of Certification Terms


Accreditation - Third-party attestation related to a conformity assessment body conveying formal demonstration of its competence to carry out specific conformity assessment tasks. (from ISO 17011:2004, definition 3.1)

Accreditation Body - Authoritative body that performs accreditation (from ISO 17011:2004, definition 3.2)

Audit - A systematic, independent and documented process for obtaining audit evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which audit criteria are fulfilled.

Audit criteria - Set of policies, procedures or requirements.

Audit evidence - Records, statements of fact or other information, which are relevant to the audit criteria and are verifiable.  Audit evidence may be qualitative or quantitative. 

Audit findings - Results of the evaluation of the collected audit evidence against audit criteria. Audit findings can indicate either conformity or nonconformity with audit criteria or opportunities for improvement.

Audit sampling - The application of audit procedures to less than 100% of the population of e.g. certificate holders.

Audit scope - Extent and boundaries of an audit.  The audit scope generally includes a description of the physical locations, organizational units, activities products and processes, as well as the time period assesed in an audit.

Audit team - One or more auditors conducting an audit, supported if needed by technical experts. One auditor of the audit team is appointed as the audit team leader.

Auditor - Person with the competence to conduct an audit.

CAB - See Conformity Assessment Body

CAR - See Corrective Action Request

Certificate - A formal document issued by a CAB or accreditation body as evidence that the party(ies) named on the certificate is in conformity with the standard(s) noted on the certificate for the scope given

Certificate holder - An entity which holds a valid certificate.

Certification - Procedure by which a third party gives written or equivalent assurance that a product, process or service conforms to specified requirements. 

Certification body - See Conformity Assessment Body

Certification client - The entirety of any organization or business entity responsible for implementing the requirements of this standard, including all personnel (i.e. directors, executives, management, supervisors, and non-management staff, whether directly employed, contracted or otherwise representing the company).

Certification Scheme - Certification system related to specified products, services or processes to which the same specified requirements, rules and procedures apply.

Certification system - Rules, procedures and management for carrying out certification.

Certifier - See Conformity Assessment Body

Compliance - The act or process of complying to a desire, demand, proposal, or regimen or to coercion. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Conformity - The fulfillment of a requirement (ISO 900:2000)

Conformity assessment body Body that performs conformity assessment services and that can be the object of accreditation. 

Competence - The demonstrated ability to effectively apply appropriate knowledge, skills and technical understanding to undertake roles and activities in a manner which meets defined levels of achievement.

Corrective action - The implementation of a systemic change or solution to ensure an immediate and on-going remedy to a non-conformity.

Corrective action report - See Corrective Action Request

Corrective action request -  

Ecolabel - A label that conforms to the principles described in ISO 14020:2000 Environmental labels and declarations: General Principles

Expired certificate - A certificate that reached the expiry date without having been renewed by the issuing CAB.  This certificate is longer valid.

IAF - International Accreditation Forum

Invalid certificate - A certificate that is withdrawn, terminated or expired. A certificate that has been suspended is still a valid certificate (but inactive). A certificate may also become invalid if the CAB loses its accreditation.

ISEAL Alliance - International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance

ISO - International Organisation for Standardisation

Lead auditor - Auditor who is given the overall responsibility for a specified audit

Major non-conformity - Any non-conformity that has one or more of the following:

  • The absence or total breakdown of a system that is likely to result in a failure to achieve the objective an applicable certification requirement
  • Would result in the probable shipment of product that does not conform to requirements
  • Is likely to result in a failure of the system or materially reduce the ability of the client to assure the integrity of the certified product, process or service
  • Is shown to continue over a long period of time
  • Is repeated
  • Is systematic or is the result of the absence or a total breakdown of a system
  • Affects a wide area and/or causes significant damage
  • Is not corrected or adequately responded to by the client once identified

Minor non-conformity - Any non-conformity in which the client does not comply with the standard and those non-conformities do not jeopardise the integrity of the certified product, process or service. This includes:

  • Where failure to comply with a requirement which is not likely to result in the breakdown of a system to meet a requirement
  • Where the failure is a single observed lapse or isolated incident
  • Where there is no systemic failure to conform to requirements
  • Where the impacts are limited in their temporal and spatial scale
  • Where there is minimal risk of the shipment of a product that does not conform to requirements
  • Where the failure does not meet the definition of a major non-conformity
  • Where the failure will not produce a non-conforming product, process or service

Objective evidence - Verifiable information or records pertaining to the quality of an item or service or to the existence and implementation of a quality system element, which is based on visual observation, measurement or test that can include independent witnesses, peer-reviewed scientific research, or otherwise verifiable and credible information.

Preventive action - The implementation of a systemic change or solution to ensure prevent a non-conformity from occurring.

Root Cause - The source or origin of nonconformity, as well as any contributing factors involved.

Shall - Denotes a requirement

Should - Denotes a recommendation that should be followed unless there are reasons not to.  If so the justification for not following the recommendation shall be recorded.

Standard - A document established by consensus and approved by a recognized body that provides for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context.  (from ISO/IEC Guide 2:1996, definition 3.2)

Suspension of certificate - The temporary removal by the CAB of all or part of a certificate holder’s scope of certification pending corrective action by the certificate holder. A suspended certificate cannot be transferred.

Suspension of certification - Process of temporarily making a certification invalid, in full or for part of the scope of certification.

Termination of certificate - Cancellation of the certification contract by either party according to contractual arrangements. Also referred to as voluntary withdrawal or cancellation. 

Transfer of certificate - Moving the responsibility for maintaining an active certificate from one CAB to another. Certificates cannot be transferred from one client to another without the approval of the issuing CAB.

Valid certificate - A certificate that is not withdrawn, terminated or expired. A certificate that is suspended is also considered valid, but not active. 

Withdrawal of certificate - The irrevocable removal by the CAB of all or part of a certificate holder’s certification as a result of noncompliance with certification requirements or contractual commitments.

Unit of certification - The product, process, service, facility or company that is covered by a certificate. 

Valid certificate - A certificate that is not suspended, withdrawn, terminated or expired. 

WTO - World Trade Organisation