EFS Consulting

What are laws, standards and guidelines?

Standards, norms, laws… Which of these do companies actually have to comply with in order to be in conformity with the legislation? This EFS RegCom Academy article explains the differences between the terms and describes what they mean for companies.


Laws are formal rules published by a government authority. They are binding and enforceable within their jurisdiction. A German law is therefore only valid in Germany. Austrian authorities cannot force companies to follow these rules in Austria. Non-compliance with laws can have legal consequences, e.g. fines, penalties or legal action.


Standards are technical specifications and other generally accepted requirements for products, services or processes. They are established criteria or benchmarks that define the minimum requirements in a specific area. Standards are developed jointly by organizations, supervisory authorities or industry associations and thus represent the consensus of the industry. As a result, the application of standards is normally voluntary and therefore not legally enforceable like laws.

Nonetheless, there are standards that are referred to in laws and must therefore also be complied with, for example the European standard EN 71, which specifies safety regulations for toys. However, compliance with standards proves conformity with recognized guidelines in a specific area. Examples here are the ETSI standards from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) for the telecommunications sector.


Guidelines are advisory documents or recommendations that provide practical advice or best practice on how to comply with laws, standards or norms. They are published by official bodies such as government agencies or industry associations. Compliance with guidelines is usually voluntary. However, following them can help companies achieve the desired results and minimize risks.

Laws, standards and guidelines each play different roles in the compliance landscape. Companies come into contact with them in different contexts, but do not always have to comply with all of them. Nevertheless, norms and standards also provide companies with a good framework that can help them to comply with legal, ethical and operational rules.

More about this Business Area
Compliance and Legal


What is regulatory compliance?
What is the history of compliance?
What is product compliance and why is it a challenge for manufacturers?