I suppose that it is a symptom of the risk averse world in which we live that Police Community Support Officers can stand by and watch a child drown because they do not have the correct training for jumping into a pond and pulling a child out. The obsession with training and regulation extends to the growing number of organizations proposing some kind of regulation for nanotechnology research. The motivation seems to be a little unclear, whether to protect researchers from themselves, or to protect the world from nanotechnology (as opposed to banning it outright) and at least three codes are under development.
The biggest one, and the one most likely to succeed if any do is the one currently under consultation at the European Commission. Apparently the drafting a European code of conduct for responsible nanosciences and nanotechnology research is part of the Commission’s ambition “to promote a balanced diffusion of information on nanotechnology and to foster an open dialogue”.
The UK based Nanotechnologies Industry Association is also working on a “Responsible NanoCode” along with the Royal Society, and the draft version bases the code on the seven principles below:
Each Organisation should ensure that responsibility for guiding and managing its involvement with nanotechnologies resides with the Board or governing body
Each Organisation should proactively engage with its stakeholders and be responsive to their views in its development or use of products using nanotechnologies
Each Organisation should identify and minimise sources of risk for workers handling products using nanotechnologies, at all stages in the production process or in industrial use, to ensure high standards of occupational health and safety
Each Organisation should carry out thorough risk assessments and minimise any potential public health, safety and environmental risks relating to its products using nanotechnologies
Each Organisation should consider and respond to any social and ethical implications and impacts in the development or sale of products using nanotechnologies
Each Organisation should adopt responsible practice in the sales and marketing of products using nanotechnologies
Each Organisation should engage with suppliers and/or business partners to encourage and stimulate their adoption of the Code and so assure its own ability to fulfil its Code commitments
Meanwhile the European Nanotechnology Trade Association is also developing a “Nanotechnology Code of Conduct for European Industry” designed to be a Code for Europe and is being developed in addition to all the others in order to “prevent fragmentation and the proliferation of numerous nanotechnology conduct schemes across Europe.” I would have thought that going off and developing another code to compete with those already under development would have the opposite effect, but this is just part of the perverse world of associations trying to represent a non existent industry. However that minor problem has never stopped organizations such as CRN and Foresight from developing detailed codes of conduct for technologies that haven’t even been developed yet, so perhaps we are dealing with some deep seated need to regulate anything and everything.
The question that springs to mind is whether anyone actually needs any of these codes. Companies such as BASF already have their own code of conduct, and I cannot see them making any radical changes to this unless they are driven by legislation. If the codes are aimed at smaller companies, then it becomes just one more bit of bureaucracy for them, or perhaps merely another block of text on the corporate website.
Worryingly, judging from the documentation below at the Responsible Nanocode project, there seems to be a proposal for several co existing voluntary codes of conduct!
The Commission’s proposed code of conduct is aimed at all involved in nanoscience or nanotechnology research (including Governments, industry, universities, funding organisations, researchers and other interested parties.) It is therefore likely to be broader than our code, which is aimed at the governing board of organisations, and particularly businesses, involved in the research, development, manufacturing and retailing of products using nanotechnologies. We hope that our code would complement the Commission’s code, which will take the form of a European Commission Recommendation, and would be very interested in discussing the possibility of it forming part of the Recommendation. Our code will be an important governance tool and the Recommendation could suggest organisations adopt it to practically demonstrate that they are developing nanotechnologies in a responsible manner.
These initiatives all presuppose the existence of some cluster of companies that can be easily identified and regulated, which has never been the case with nanotechnology. While everyone is dashing around trying to regulate the nanotechnology industry, has anyone actually seen it for the past few years?