Professional standards are good, especially if they are high. They guarantee a minimum quality of service to the translation buyer and (should) guarantee a minimum charging fee to the language service provider.
The problem is the legitimacy of these standards. Who is the legitimate authority?
Standards should be set by a legitimate body. This body should therefore exercise an authority recognized by those who will endorse the standards. Ideally, this legitimate body should have no other interests than that of establishing and improving the standards. This means that a private company with private interest has no legitimacy to set standards.
What are the standards for translation? Who sets them? What legitimacy do they have?
First and foremost, for us translators who work within the EU, there’s the European Commission, an executive body which represents the interests of Europe as a whole (as opposed to the interests of individual countries). The European Commission develops policies for enterprise and industry. These policies support the use of European standards.
The European Commission defines European standards as "technical specifications based on consensus among all interested parties". That includes small and medium enterprises, consumers, trade unions, environmental, NGO, public authorities, etc. European standards are developed by independent standards bodies, acting at national, European and international level.
The European standard for translation services is EN-15038:2006 (EN: Translation services-Service requirements, FR: Services de traduction-Exigences requises pour la prestation du service, DE: Übersetzungs-Dienstleistungen-Dienstleistungsanforderungen).
Second, we have professional bodies, such as the Institute of translation and Interpreting, the Société française des traducteurs. These organisations tend to develop their own code of practice though they often are sisters organizations of the Fédération Internationales des traducteurs (FIT) who has developed a translator’s charter. Translators who belong to professional bodies should, in theory, be bound by this charter.
Finally, many private bodies develop their own standards. They can be translation agencies, language service providers, translators, linguists network, etc. In some cases, not many, these bodies are non-corporate and operate on a non-profit basis. But in most cases, they are private companies whose main goal, if not the only one, is financial profit.
Such companies include the famous ProZ.com, an online networking platform for translators, translation companies, and translation buyers. Proz.com have developped some sort of "standards" for their clients (who they call "members"). These standards are mostly based on EN-15038:2006. ProZ’s "Certified Pro" members must endorse these standards.
But Proz.com is a private multinational company. Their goal is not the enforcement of good practice among their clients (sorry, "members"). Their goal is, like all businesses, to make a profit. This is something that some translators tend to forget.
So let’s make it clear once and for all: private companies and professional bodies serve different interests. Don’t be fooled.