Standards are technical performance benchmarks and frameworks, developed by bodies of experts. There are mandatory (legally required) and voluntary standards; since we’re discussing certifications right now, we’re focused on voluntary standards. Standards exist for every aspect of operations, and vary incredibly in effectiveness and reputation. In general, the most important categories will be (with some overlap); quality management, social responsibility & ethical practices, and environmental management & sustainability. Suppliers adopt a voluntary standard by operating in compliance to the standard’s criteria.
Compliance to a standard doesn’t mean the supplier has been certified to the standard. While some suppliers may be operating in legitimate compliance, others may simply be claiming to. The problem is; you can’t tell which is which without certification.
Certification occurs when an accredited independent body (an auditor) verifies that a supplier adheres to the appropriate standard. Upon successful verification, the auditor typically issues a certification statement.