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Vol. 33 No. 6
November-December 2011

Why Codes of Conduct Matter

Peter Atkins in his feature article “Where Would We Be without Chemistry?” in the March–April 2011 CI (p. 4 in print) reminded us that chemistry, like any great enterprise, has a downside as well as an upside. It is used to make explosives for armaments, it creates poisons, and the effluents of chemistry plants can harm the environment. He went on to say that, with some exceptions, the chemical industry is well aware of its obligations to humanity and the environment and does what it can to avoid the potentially damaging effects of its activities. In the May-June CI (p. 8 in print), Bernard West gave us “A Closer Look at Responsible Care: Is There a Broken Link?” As he explains, Responsible Care, adopted in 54 countries, is about building trust through ethical behavior, listening attentively to the evolving concerns of the public, and providing responses that clearly demonstrate the concerns have been heard. He goes on to say that although the application of Responsible Care has led to significant improvements in the performance of the industry, incidents continue to occur. There are still many improvements to be made even within the industries that already adhere to Responsible Care.


It is against this background that it is timely and important to examine why Codes of Conduct are relevant and matter for all those engaged in chemistry. The Codes of Conduct project arose from a workshop held in Oxford in June 2005 to address outreach, education, and the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Organized by IUPAC and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [Pure and Applied Chemistry 2006, 78(11), 2169–2192], this workshop was particularly focused on the misuse of chemicals as weapons, but the discussions about codes of conduct from the outset had considered the broader view of how chemicals might be misused—whether as illicit drugs, to harm the environment, or to harm humans or animals. The discussions had focused on the responsibility of all who are engaged in chemistry to cause no harm, whether they are engaged in industry, academia, or government. Wherever chemists are engaged, they must consider the ethical implications of their work. And this question is especially relevant today in not only the traditional chemical communities but also in the biochemical and microbiological communities, where pathogenic organisms can easily be created.

. . . codes provide an essential bridge between the national laws and regulations and those who are actually engaged in chemistry . . .

In the fields of science and technology, work involving chemicals not only needs to be in compliance with international treaties, national laws, and regulations, but it needs to be perceived as being in compliance. Among the most important of the laws and treaties governing banned and severely restricted chemicals, prohibiting chemical or biological weapons, illicit drugs, and doping are the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention, the Conventions on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the Montreal Protocol, and the Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes.

It is this consideration that makes codes of conduct so important. While international treaties are legally binding on the nations that have adhered to them, their national implementation depends on national laws and regulations. Recent surveys of academia around the world have shown that students are all too often unaware of the international treaties and the consequential obligations; it is here that codes provide an essential bridge between the national laws and regulations and those who are actually engaged in chemistry in academia, industry, and government. Increased attention is being given to ethical principles and codes around the world, including initiatives such as those of the UNESCO Division of Ethics of Science and Technology. Some international unions—such as the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in December 2005—have adopted their own codes of ethics. Furthermore, it has become evident that the new generation of chemists is keen to see ethical and other considerations taken into account. Guiding principles for a code of conduct would promote the service of chemistry to society and to global issues. Such a code would strengthen international chemistry and help to achieve high standards of excellence and relevance in academic, governmental, and industrial activities.


The IUPAC project* on Recommendations for Codes of Conduct started in October 2007. From the outset it was recognized that there are benefits to adopting a layered approach to codes. Thus, the project team decided that the code should have three layers: 1. universal principles, 2. society codes such as those developed by professional and industrial associations, and 3. codes developed by individual institutions/workplaces. These layers are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Furthermore, the team agreed that its approach would be to extend existing codes rather than create new one. However, the team recognized that if an organization or institution did not already have a code of conduct, then it should consider the benefits of adopting ones.

A progress report was presented at the 42nd IUPAC Congress held in Glasgow in August 2009 in the Ethics, Science, and Development (ChemRAWN XVIII) session. In addition, copies of the draft recommendations were distributed for comment to representatives of IUPAC’s National Adhering Organizations during its 42nd Congress.

Global Management of Chemicals
Project team members were well aware of the widespread recognition globally of the importance of improving the management of chemicals. The International Conference on Chemicals Management met in Dubai in February 2006 to consider the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management and adopted two key points in its Dubai Declaration on International Chemicals Management. The first noted that the sound management of chemicals is essential if we are to achieve sustainable development. And the second recognized the need to take concerted action because of a wide range of chemical safety concerns at the international level. These have an important bearing on global issues such as the eradication of poverty and disease, the improvement of human health and the environment, and the elevation and maintenance of the standard of living in countries at all levels of development. In addition, these declarations help to address the lack of capacity for managing chemicals in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, dependency on pesticides in agriculture, exposure of workers to harmful chemicals, and concern about the long-term effects of chemicals on both human health and the environment.

In addition, we noted that toxic chemicals are attracting increased attention because of concerns about safety and the environment (e.g., in Europe the REACH regulation (Registration, Evaluation,
uthorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) is being put into effect while in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency is implementing the HPV (High Production Volume) program. Further requirements are also being introduced to counter concerns about chemical terrorism.

. . . codes need to be dynamic rather than static . .

Towards Codes
As already mentioned, the chemical industry has long been concerned about the use of chemicals. Its Responsible Care program, developed in Canada in the early 1980s, is an ethically driven road map for taking every practical precaution to ensure that the chemical industry’s processes and products do not present an unacceptable level of risk to its employees, customers, the public, or the environment. Responsible Care is about building trust through ethical behavior by demonstrating that the chemical industry is committed to doing the right thing and be seen to doing the right thing. Responsible Care is now an ICCA (International Council of Chemical Associations) global chemical initiative. The ICCA's focus is on developing global chemical industry positions and evolving programs on issues of international significance to the industry. These include areas such as health, safety, and the environment; international transport safety; intellectual property; trade policy; and industry efforts to eliminate chemical weapons and diversion of illegal drugs. ICCA also promotes and coordinates Responsible Care and other voluntary chemical industry initiatives. Although Responsible Care is initially voluntary, it generally becomes a mandatory requirement for membership.


The importance of codes has been clearly recognized by the states that are party to the international conventions relating to chemical and biological weapons. Thus, in 2005, the States Parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention agreed on the value of codes of conduct applying not just to scientists, but to all those involved in scientific activity, including managers and technical and ancillary staff [emphasis added]. They also agreed that it was important for such codes to be compatible with national legislation and regulatory controls. They need to be simple, clear, and easily understandable both to scientists and to wider civil society. They also have to be relevant, helpful, and effective for guiding relevant actors in making decisions and taking action in accordance with the purposes and objectives of the Convention, sufficiently broad in scope and regularly reviewed, evaluated for effectiveness, and revised as necessary. Three years later, in a report for the Second Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the director general endorsed codes by saying that “the adoption of professional codes of conduct and other governance measures can help promote compliance with the requirements of the Convention by all professionals and institutions that deal with chemicals.”


Guiding Principles for a Code
It is thus evident that considerations of guiding principles for codes of conduct need to reflect the breadth of concerns—relating to health, safety, security, and the environment. In order to have an impact on practice, codes need to be dynamic rather than static, and need to be incorporated into a continuing process akin to the considerations of health and safety that are considered prior to each new piece of work.

Guiding principles for a code of conduct would strengthen chemistry, both nationally and internationally, and help to achieve high standards of excellence and relevance in academic, governmental, and industrial activities. Such a code would also promote the service of chemistry to society and to global issues.

Guiding principles for a code would recognize the extraordinary benefits to the quality of life, public health, and agriculture throughout the world made available by the knowledge, methods, and techniques involving chemicals. It would promote all aspects of chemistry, not just among members of the profession, but increasingly to the worldwide community. While chemistry is central to life and provides many valuable benefits for humankind, it can also raise important ethical issues. These issues can evolve as more development and uses of chemistry occur and guiding principles for a code of conduct would provide a framework within which to consider such issues.

It was against this backdrop that the IUPAC project sought to identify guiding principles that should be included in any code of conduct for those engaged in chemistry. We began by seeking examples of existing codes from a process of widespread consultation involving different cultural perspectives from around the world so as to ensure that the recommended principles are informed by the experience of other professional bodies that have codes, such as the International Council of Chemical Associations, which developed the Responsible Care Global Charter.

Recommended Principles
In developing our recommended principles, we started by putting their relevance in the context of IUPAC. Thus, we recognized that IUPAC provides leadership, facilitation, and encouragement of chemistry and promotes the norms, values, standards, and ethics of science and the free exchange of scientific information. In fulfilling this mission, IUPAC effectively contributes to the worldwide understanding and application of the chemical sciences, to the betterment of the human condition.

We then went on to develop an overarching objective that IUPAC recommend that all those engaged in chemistry review their existing codes of conduct, or develop new codes of conduct, to promote the safe use of chemicals in the public interest and in the furtherance of science, and to encourage compliance with all relevant international and national laws and regulations. All specific recommendations below should be taken in the context of this overarching objective.

We then recommended that IUPAC and all of its NAOs, Associate NAOs, and national chemical societies review their existing codes or develop new ones to encourage all those within their jurisdiction who engage in science and technology using chemicals to address the principles set out below.

Our first principle was that all those using chemicals should ensure that their own work is ethical and upholds the dignity, standing, reputation, and integrity of the profession. We then recognized that such users of chemicals should take steps to ensure that scientific knowledge and technologies are used only for the benefits and betterment of humankind and the environment.

We then recognized that those using chemicals should ensure that their work is in accordance with the principles of sustainable development and safeguards the earth’s capacity to support life in all its diversity. And, furthermore, that chemicals, equipment, and facilities under their care and supervision are not used for illegal, harmful, or destructive purposes. In addition, any misuse of chemicals and facilities for criminal and/or destructive purposes should be reported to the relevant authority.

Next, we addressed the responsibility of chemists and other scientists to ensure the safety of and minimize risk to their fellow workers and colleagues, the general public, and the environment, bearing in mind both the intended and unintended consequences of their activities. They should also conduct regular health, safety, and security assessments of their work and facilities under their care.

We then turned to international and national obligations, pointing out the need to ensure that their work is, and is perceived to be, adherent to or compliant with national laws and international conventions on chemicals and other related substances. And that those using chemicals should cooperate with governments and organizations to identify gaps in legislation, regulations, and standards, and to develop and implement new laws, regulations, and standards to meet these gaps.

Finally, we urged those using chemicals to update their knowledge on the latest developments in the health and environmental risk of chemicals and related substances and to use their knowledge and understanding to facilitate public education, understanding, and appreciation of the benefits arising from chemistry as well as the risks associated with the misuse or inappropriate use of chemicals.

Codes of Conduct Received from IUPAC Members

Royal Australian Chemical Institute Code of Ethics (See

Chemical Institute of Canada Codes of Ethics (See

Chemistry Industry Association of Canada Responsible Care Codes of Practice (See ResponsibleCareHome/ResponsibleCareBRCodesofPracticebr.aspx

Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker Code of Conduct (See

Società Chimica Italiana Charter of Ethical Principles for the Chemical Sciences (See

Chemical Society of Japan Environmental Charter ’99 (See

Korean Chemical Society Green Chemistry, Clean World (See About KCS/Aims)

Chemical Society of Nigeria Green Chemistry and Sustainable Development: Challenges and Prospects (See

Colegio de Químicos de Puerto Rico Manual del Código de Ética

Royal Society of Chemistry Code of Conduct (See Membership/CodeofConduct.asp)

American Chemical Society The Chemical Professional’s Code of Conduct (See

What You Should Do
We urge all readers—whether you belong to an NAO or ANAO or if you are someone who uses chemicals—to review whether you have a code of conduct or code of ethics. If you do, then review your code to consider whether it adequately and clearly embraces all the guiding principles set out here. If it does, then congratulate yourselves on being up to date, and continue to review your code at regular intervals. If it doesn’t, then consider amending your code so as to embrace the points made here. And if you don’t have a code at all, then give serious consideration to the benefits of adopting one—whether it addresses universal principles, or is a society code such as those developed by professional and industrial associations, or an institutional/workplace code such as those being developed by individual institutions/workplaces. If you do these things, you will have made a personal contribution to the International Year of Chemistry by promoting the worldwide understanding and application of the chemical sciences, to the betterment of the human condition.

Graham Pearson <[email protected]> is a visiting professor in international security in the Division of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, UK, where he has been engaged for over 15 years in promoting the strengthening of the international treaties totally prohibiting chemical and biological weapons. He was previously the director general of the Chemical and Biological Defense Establishment at Porton Down in the UK. He chaired IUPAC project 2007-022-2-020: Recommendations for Codes of Conduct.

*The members of the IUPAC project 2007-022-2-020 were Graham S. Pearson (Chair), Sultan T. Abu-Orabi, Edwin D. Becker, Alastair W. Hay, Jo L Husbands, Peter G. Mahaffy, Robert Mathews, Ting-Kueh Soon, Leiv K.Sydnes, Natalia P. Tarasova, Bernard West and Maria C.E. van Dam-Mieras.

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