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What is the difference between conformance, conformity and compliance?

Conformance, Conformity and Compliance: What is the difference?

The three words may be wrongly used if you are not conversant with their usage. If you are an ISO management system practitioner or a health and safety auditor-those words may not be new to you. But to know the difference is good to enable you to use them correctly.

Firstly, let’s clarify conformance and conformity. Conformance and conformity mean the same thing. And you can use the two words interchangeably, but the fact is that the withdrawn ISO 9000:2000 that uses conformance is obsolete. 

But some organisations are still using conformance in their dealings. But there is no cause for an alarm. However, for the sake of this article, anywhere you see conformance, you can replace it with conformity and vice versa. 

Conformity and conformance are the fulfilment of an internal requirement, but compliance is the fulfilment of externally imposed relevant regulations on an organisation. 

Procedures that meet the external requirements of a regulatory body are compliant. The procedures that do not meet the said external requirements are Non-compliance. 

Many companies or organisations, for instance, the food Industry may operate under some guidelines, standards or regulations. 

A governing body may make these regulations legally binding for organisations under that industry and will be required to follow them to agree voluntarily to meet those standards. So considering these now, you may have compliance and conformance.

Differences between Conformity and Compliance.

Compliance has to do with the legal and formal requirements a company has to abide by, while conformance is voluntary. 

Conformance can be norms, expectations, standards and even policies constituted by a company or by another company that which all their employees have to abide with

Conformance may become compliance if a company wants to seek certification as a matter of Compliance.

For instance, the ISO management system sets a standard that companies can follow if they want to have an effective management system. They may choose not to be certified as a company. Though not a must. But if they must get certification in any of the ISO management system standards, the standard becomes compliant for them in getting the certification.

Consequences attached to Non-compliance can be dire consequences and can ruin the reputation and revenue of an organisation. 

Government sets regulations that the company need to comply with as in having compliance on them.

Compliance is a legal enforcement process. Now, in the world of ISO standards, conformity is in use. Compliance is not in use. 

Bodies have to conform to the voluntary element in the standard. However, they have to comply with the legal and regulatory requirements set up by the government.  

Conformance is a voluntary act. Compliance is an imposed act.

When legal enforcement happens, they are to uncover non-compliance while the management system auditor evaluates clients’ evidence to check how far they have conformed with the standard. 

Notice of non-conformity may derail the certification process from happening or the certificate to be withdrawn from or suspended. 

The Discovery of non-conformity does not start an investigation, but the auditor points out the non-conformity and asks that it be corrected. Government enforcement agencies conduct an investigation, and in that process, they search for new information for prosecution. 

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