ESA CSR Code of Conduct: Strengthening ESA corporate responsibility

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At its meeting in June 2023, the ESA Council adopted the ESA Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Code of Conduct – a supplier code of conduct establishing the ethical, social and environmental responsibility expectations which ESA has for its suppliers. This significant milestone follows the two signing events of the Statement for a Responsible Space Sector, in November 2022 and May 2023 respectively, where a total of 29 space sector actors have pledged to strive towards a more socially and environmentally responsible management of their activities.

The adoption of the ESA CSR Code of Conduct is anticipated to enhance the corporate responsibility of space sector actors by helping to harmonise the corporate responsibility level across the sector.

Adherence to the ESA CSR Code of Conduct is voluntary for ESA suppliers and can be declared when registering to do business with ESA or updating business information on the dedicated digital platform as of 2024. For ESA suppliers interested in enhancing their corporate responsibility, dedicated training and support tools will be made available.

What is the ESA CSR Code of Conduct?

The ESA CSR Code of Conduct establishes the expectation to ESA suppliers to uphold the basic human and labour rights referenced in the code and encourages entities to reduce their impact on climate change and to develop their products and services sustainably. At the same time, the Code emphasises the importance of business ethics and sound governance and outlines the Agency’s expectations related thereto.

The corporate responsibility principles contained in the ESA CSR Code of Conduct have been put together in a multi-stakeholder working group including large space companies and national space agencies and are, where such instruments exist, aligned with international conventions and guidance related to the protection of human rights and the environment.

Next to encouraging industry to commit to the principles established in the ESA CSR Code of Conduct, the Agency will also align its own activities with these principles.

What does the adoption of the ESA CSR Code of Conduct mean for ESA suppliers?

ESA CSR Code of Conduct

Adherence to the principles of the ESA CSR Code of Conduct is voluntary for ESA suppliers. Suppliers wishing to demonstrate their corporate responsibility by declaring adherence to the ESA CSR Code of Conduct will be able to do so as of 2024 as mentioned above. Such declaration shall be sincere and made in good faith.

What are the benefits of adherence to the ESA CSR Code of Conduct?

The ESA CSR Code of Conduct, developed in cooperation with industry and national space agencies’ representatives, is an effort to harmonise the corporate responsibility and sustainability due diligence requirements at the space sector level. If the ESA CSR Code of Conduct is adopted by a large number of space sector entities, this could, on the one hand, have significant effects on reducing the related compliance efforts for many entities. On the other hand, having a harmonised level of corporate responsibility across the sector makes the sector more resilient to any adverse human rights and/or environmental impacts.

At the same time, both the national and EU legislation in the field of corporate sustainability due diligence and reporting are fast evolving, bringing along legal obligations affecting space sector companies. The laws may not be directly applicable to SMEs, but as part of supply chains, these companies will also be affected by many sustainability requirements flowing down from prime contractors. Striving for adherence with the ESA CSR Code of Conduct can help prepare entities for compliance with existing or upcoming legal requirements.

Furthermore, social and environmental responsibility are gaining more and more traction among private sector actors, including private investors. For those ESA suppliers that are looking to also operate on the commercial space market and compete for private funding, advancing their corporate responsibility is a great opportunity to increase competitiveness in this respect

How to get started?

For entities wishing to commit to the principles established in the ESA CSR Code of Conduct, the first step to take is to read through the code and map one’s activities against the requirements established therein. When doing so, it should be kept in mind that depending on the size and activities of the entity, adherence to the ESA CSR Code of Conduct may take different forms. Perhaps the entity already has a supplier code of conduct of its own? Then it is relevant to assess whether this code provides equivalent protection of human rights and the environment to the ESA CSR Code of Conduct.

In order to understand the current level of corporate responsibility among its suppliers, ESA will ask all entities registered with ESA in the dedicated digital platform a number of questions on the topic. The information received will be used as input for determining the training and support measures most relevant to help ESA suppliers interested in advancing their corporate responsibility level. Stay tuned for updates regarding available training and support measures.

The ESA Green Agenda

The ESA Green Agenda summarises the agency’s two folded sustainability strategy to be achieved by 2030. On the one hand, ESA must augment the contribution of space programs to the sustainable development of society and limit the environmental impact of their use. On the other hand, the agency must reduce the environmental footprint of its activities and operations. The ESA CSR Code of Conduct was developed under the framework of work package 4 of the ESA Green Agenda focusing on Responsible Procurement & Supply Chain.

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