The aim of the Code will be to establish a set of internationally relevant principles which outline good practice for businesses involved in all aspects of these emerging technologies and their applications including research, development, manufacturing, distribution and retailing.
It will be developed by a working group made up of representatives from the Code's four founding partners and a range of organisations including business and non-governmental organisations along with scientists and social scientists. Confirmed members of the working group so far include amongst others the chemical company BASF, Unilever, Smith & Nephew, the consumer group Which?, development NGO Practical Action and Amicus.
Lord Selborne, chair of the working group said: "Nanotechnologies are generating a huge amount of excitement, with the industry growing extremely fast. But business is operating in a climate of technical, social and commercial uncertainty concerning these relatively new technologies. In light of this we are aiming to develop a code, with extensive stakeholder input, that will indicate best practice for companies across the value chain from nanomaterials producers to consumer product retailers.
"By helping companies develop nanotechnologies responsibly, we hope this Code will play an important role in ensuring that nanotechnologies realise their full potential including delivering health, environmental, social and economic benefits."
The Code will be voluntary with companies being encouraged to publicly explain how they comply with its principles through, for example statements in annual or corporate responsibility reports. The Code will set out expected corporate behaviours and management processes rather than an auditable standard, although indicators of compliance may be developed.
An open consultation will take place in Autumn 2007 when a draft code will be available for comment. More information is available from nanoandme.org/social-and-ethical/corporate-responsibility/responsible-nano-code/. The working group aims to publish the Code early in 2008.
Nanoscience and nanotechnologies involve the study and use of materials at an extremely small scale at sizes of millionths of a millimetre and exploit the fact that some materials have different properties at this ultra small scale compared with those at a larger scale.
These properties are currently exploited in a wide range of applications including computer chips, electronic goods such as mobile phones and DVD players and self cleaning windows. In the future nanoscience and nanotechnologies may lead to, for example, cheaper and more efficient ways of purifying water and generating solar energy, possible new methods of cleaning up contaminated ground and targeting drugs to specific parts of the body.