Buying consumer goods is based on uncertainty. Consumers can never be sure of the quality or safety of the products they buy. This is particularly so as markets become globalized and products are manufactured in different parts of the world. A number of organized solutions to reduce uncertainty in markets have emerged since the rise of mass consumption in the 1900s. After WW2 states in many countries actively engaged in creating such solutions, for example in the form of state or quasi-state product testing laboratories performing individual and comparative tests and issuing test results that were published in consumer magazines. Today test laboratories continue to operate, but as for-profit companies that are monitored by a state-mandated accreditation organization. Yet another type of monitoring organization has obtained a prominent role as a market organizer: the certification company that is hired by manufacturers to monitor their compliance with international standards. Certification companies too comply with standards and their compliance is monitored by a national accreditation organization.

Whereas the contemporary regulatory regime with standards, certification and accreditation has attracted much scholarly attention during the past decade, research about the universe of testing laboratories is surprisingly scarce. Neither the state-owned laboratories that were expanding until the end of the 1970s, nor the market of for-profit laboratories that expanded substantially from the early 1990s, have been targeted by social scientists. Although product testing may intuitively appear as objective and technical, decisions about who should undertake testing, which products to test, criteria to use, how test results should be interpreted, ranked and communicated to consumers, are all consequential, value laden and contestable. This motivates us to pose the following research questions: How is independence for product testing organized and how, why and with what consequences are states, firms and civil society organizations involved in this organization? We use in-depth comparative studies of product testing organizations to explore how independence is problematised and organized in different periods and places, and analyse key relationships between testing organizations – viewed as regulatory intermediaries – and the state, industry and civil society. We select cases between 1940 and 2020 in Sweden, the UK and Germany, which differ in regard to state involvement and consumer policy.