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Mark Hammar

Certifying different legal entities under one certification scope in ISO 9001

Many questions come up when implementing the requirements of ISO 9001:2015 for your Quality Management System (QMS), and while many are easy to answer, some are not. One question that can come up for smaller organizations that have separate locations is: “Can I certify more than one legal entity under one ISO 9001 certification?” The answer to this is yes; but, determining and identifying the QMS scope is key.

What does the scope have to do with this?

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In the ISO 9001:2015 standard, one of the first actions to take when implementing the Quality Management System is to determine what the scope of the QMS will be. The requirements for this activity are in clause 4.3, and take place right after you determine what your organizational context is, who your interested parties are, and what they expect. In short, this is the step where you take all of your knowledge about your organization and state exactly what will be covered under the Quality Management System policies and processes.

So, if you want to certify two different companies under the same certificate, you could. You would do this by including the information about the products and services of both companies in your QMS scope. The scope would also include the location details of both companies to define the boundaries and applicability of the QMS. This process is not unknown in the ISO 9001 community, and there is one example where a group of four companies, comprising four different legal entities, were certified under the same certification. To learn more on this topic, check out this article: How to prepare your company for the ISO 9001 audit.

This does not necessarily mean that you can just get together with your neighboring company and create one QMS for certification. The QMS rules and policies need to be applicable to all the companies defined in the QMS scope, and if your companies are too different, this may not be feasible. This approach of using one QMS certification for companies that are different legal entities is only common when the companies are related.

For instance, you might have one company that is creating a product, which has a sibling company that provides transportation services. The choice was made that the transportation company would be incorporated under a separate legal name in order to more easily provide transportation services for not only the production company, but also other companies as well. These two companies could fall under the same scope if the choice was made for the QMS policies and rules that were applicable for both. However, the scope must include both locations, as well as descriptions of the product and the transportation services offered to customers.

For more information on defining the scope of the QMS, see this article: How to define the scope of the QMS according to ISO 9001:2015.

Benefits and disadvantages of multiple legal entities in one scope

The benefits of putting multiple legal entities under one certification are tempting, and the biggest advantage is the ability to save money on certification fees. You can also save time and money on many of your QMS processes, because the same process is used at multiple locations. This can include such things as documentation control, planning for QMS risks and opportunities, resource and competence maintenance, performance evaluations, and improvement management.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and there can be some drawbacks to this approach. By including more than one legal entity, you need to include all locations, products, and services of all entities in your scope. By doing so, it is possible that the scope of your QMS, which will be given to your customers and interested parties, will become confusing and complex. If this will confuse customers as to what your products and services are, then think about separating the Quality Management Systems of the two companies.

It is important to note that not every certification body will allow this practice, so you should check with your certification body if they are willing to proceed with your certification with a scope that includes more than one legal entity. If they are not willing to do this, you will need to either pursue separate certifications, or find a different certification body who will allow this. Certification bodies need to align with their accreditation rules, so it is also possible that this could change in the future.

Define the scope that makes sense for you

It is important to think through the decision of how you will define your scope when you have multiple related companies that have separate legal entities. Is there a benefit for your companies? Will the combined scope be too confusing or complex? What is the best thing to do for your company? There is no right answer, and each company in this situation will need to come to their own conclusion. Remember, think through this decision before talking to your registrar, and make your certification work for you.

To help you choose the most suitable certification body, download this free List of questions to ask an ISO 9001 certification body.

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