The working definition of ‘quality’ is the minimum level of performance required to fulfil a specification. This in turn underscores the importance of a precise description in terms of an item’s specifications.


The application of preset standards facilitates the description of item specifications.

Standardization, by both national and international bodies, aims to facilitate the exchange of goods and services. These standards are a reference guide for all parties enabling them to define a required specification and to provide a quality standard against which the delivered item can be tested and controlled.

Most countries, if not all, have national standardization bodies. Among the many national standards still in use for international trade the most frequently encountered are BS (British Standard), GOST (Russian Standard), DIN (German Standard), etc.

However, many countries are also members of the ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. All ISO member countries are gradually replacing their national standards with the corresponding ISO standards.


There are 2 types of standards that are of interest to the Movement in terms of its supply activities:

  • those that define the minimum specifications for a given product, and
  • those that define the control and testing procedures for a given specification.


ISO10966 (Textiles – Fabrics for awnings and camping tent specifications)

  • This ISO standard sets out minimum specifications for various types of camping tent canvases.
  •  For instance, included in these characteristics is the required tensile strength for non-coated cotton canvas, which is used for the walls of a residential tent (figure: 850N). It also indicates the required control procedures to check that a canvas meets the desired value, hence, quality standard (procedure: ISO5081).

ISO5081 (Textiles – Woven fabrics – Determination of tensile strength and elongation, strip method)

  • This ISO standard describes the procedure for measuring the tensile strength of any type of woven canvas; it does not provide actual values. It includes the preparation of the sample, a description of the necessary equipment and the measuring process itself, and the format in which the results are to be reported.

Other types of standards, such as the ISO9000 and ISO14000 series, define quality systems in their entirety. In and of themselves, they are not a set of prescribed procedures, but are standards used as a support in establishing appropriate internal control procedures.

Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Standardization

  • The Movement is well advance in terms of its goal to standardize and harmonize a large part of the equipment and materials used in its operations and projects.
  • In turn, this facilitates the selection of and Movement-wide familiarization with standard goods supplied to emergency response activities. Consequently, this enables the Movement to pre-planned purchases, establish stockpiles, ensure equipment compatibility, train personnel and volunteers, establish spare part needs, etc, and, ultimately, to avoid supplying inappropriate goods.

Additionally, in 1997 the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, together with other major humanitarian organizations, established a set of minimum standards for humanitarian aid known as the Sphere project, which should be consulted: http://www.sphereproject.org/


Red Cross and Red Crescent specifications:

  • These include a list of characteristics that a product should present to ensure that the quality requirements for this product are met.
  • These characteristics must be supported by realistic and applicable control methods. Generally, reference is made to an international or a national control standard, or, more rarely, an in-house procedure.

National specifications:

  • Nations impose their own national specifications for all products imported into their markets. These respond to several preoccupations but, in general, are designed to protect consumers, local markets and national producers. Nations also require exporters to conform to required specifications, which in turn helps to promote the production of export-quality products.
  • Always ensure that the goods intended for importation conform to the country’s national specifications. If this is not possible, contact the appropriate national authorities to have the goods authorized as an exception to the import regulations.

International specifications:

  • Many products already have internationally-recognised specifications (size of freight containers, quality of fuels, etc.), which are set out in the ISO standards.
  • Other internationally-recognized bodies have also established standard specifications: GAFTA for international trade contracts covering cereals, CEI for international standards on electrical devices, ECHO for humanitarian food-aid products from the EU, etc.
  • The Movement conforms, wherever possible, to international specifications for all standard products.


Where national and international specifications are respected, and provided that the inspection company is well chosen, applying specifications against standard control procedures should not be a problem.

Inspections can be undertaken by external services or internally.

However, in some instances, legal requirements may impose an inspection by a state-certified company. Certified inspection reports are required for most imports and exports.

Certified inspection reports are also essential documents in any arbitration process with a supplier.

The ICRC/IFRC validated laboratories, at the date of November 2016, are:

  • Centexbel, validated for testing of tarpaulins and blankets. email address: dv@centexbel.be
  • Metrology.ch, validated for testing of kitchen sets. email address:  info@metrology.ch
  • SGS HK, validated for testing of plastic buckets. email address: janice.chan@sgs.com
  • IFTH, validated for testing of jerrycans and plastic sleeping mats. email address: ifth-serviceclientele@ifth.org


It is important to have:

  • well-defined requirements,
  • with clear specifications, checked against the destination country’s national specifications,
  • based on well-known standards in both the country of purchase and destination.

This ensures that the supplier’s specifications and those used by the inspection company conducting the control are comparable.

In the catalogue, preference has been given to ISO standards, and, where required, regional or national standards.