An Ethical Issue in Voluntary-Consensus-Standards Development: A Decision-Science View

Marpet, Mark I.
November 1998
Journal of Business Ethics;Nov98, Vol. 17 Issue 15, p1701
Academic Journal
Voluntary Consensus Standards are commerce-related documents developed by interested volunteers under due-process procedures which ensure that the concerns of all parties are fairly taken into account. Standards are beneficial to society because they promote commerce and lower the costs of and barriers to doing business. Because of this, conformance to a standard can confer significant competitive advantage. Vigorous, democratic competition between ideas leads to a high-quality standard. Some participants in the standards-development process will, against the general interest, attempt to skew a standard to favor a specific product, service, or practice. In order prevent this sort of abuse, rules are written to prevent any common-interest block from overwhelming the general interest. Unfettered debate is fostered by having no rules defining volunteer-member misconduct, eliminating any possibility that a majority will improperly use such rules to silence a minority. This unfortunately permits the rare but not-hypothetical situation where those unscrupulous and determined, or those out of control, are able to engage in obstructionism and misconduct without any possibility of penalty. This paper will introduce voluntary-consensus standards and the standards-development process. It will explore the fundamental differences between due process as it applies to an individual involved in the standards-development process and the more general issue of due process for an individual in society. The paper will address the implications of differing thresholds for judging whether misconduct has occurred and how these differing thresholds shift the balance between opposing systemic errors. It will propose a solution which balances the interests of those involved in the standards-development process and furthers standard development's primary objective: benefiting commerce and society by producing standards of the highest quality.


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