Trust for sale. Legitimizing strategies on the Swedish certification market 1970–2020: before and after the EU’s New Approach

The project investigates a transnational control structure that, to large extent, is organized through private actors, often including several layers of control. At centre of this structure is the certification market that expanded considerably during the 1990s after the wave of de-regulations in the 1980s and 1990s. The type of certification focused is performed according to a management system standard, such as ISO 9001 for quality assurance. In practice this means that what is controlled by certification auditors are the documented objectives and organisational routines which have been put in place to manage and organize the operations under audit. Today over a million organisations around the world are certified according to this particular standard.

In the project, the Swedish market for certification in 1970–2020 is investigated through questions about how certification auditing companies work to convince about their role as trustworthy gatekeepers to markets. What is the role of their organizational form, the degree of seniority and state involvement? Special attention is devoted to the legitimacy strategy to be accredited – a “certification of the certifier” – which has grown strong since the 1990s. Within the EU accreditation is performed by state authorities, while in some other countries accreditation is a market-based form of control. Questions analyzed in the project are: How have certification companies been involved in the development of accreditation as a form of control of the certification companies themselves? What certifiers have continued with business activities in the certification market without being accredited?  In addition to contributing to literature engaging specifically with legitimacy issues of various types of auditing organizations, the project also contributes to the emerging discussion within organization theory about organization between and among organizations and the importance of “Others”.

The project runs for three years (2018–2020) with funding from Handelsbankens forskningsstiftelser. Kristina Tamm Hallström, associate professor in management at the Stockholm School of Economics, is the project leader of this project, which also includes Martin Gustavsson, associate professor in economic history.