Embracing Responsible Care in Malaysian Chemical Industries

by Dr. Lee Khai Ern, Dr. Goh Choo Ta, Prof. Dato’ Dr. Mazlin Mokhtar

Illustration by Kong Yink Heay
Illustration by Kong Yink Heay

Increasing chemicals manufacturing and usage need effective chemicals management. Responsible Care program is a voluntary initiative to drive continuous improvement in environmental, health and safety performances. It encourages companies to listen and respond to public concerns,to promote responsible management practices of chemicals along the product chain and to build confidence and trust in the chemical industries.

Malaysia has transformed itself from an agriculture-based economy into an emerging industrial manufacturing entity since 1970s. The manufacturing industries have a substantial contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Malaysia especially when the Malaysian government initiated the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) in 2010, attempting to realise its aspiration to become a high-income country by the year 2020. The manufacturing sector stands as one of the important National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) proposed by the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), not only as a source of economic growth, but also a manifestation to be a high income country.

Along with rapid growth in manufacturing sectors, Malaysia is also undertaking sustainable management practices to prevent detrimental effects of rapid industrialisation on the environment and human health. Improper management of chemical products can cause adverse impacts to the environment, human health and safety.

Back in 1984, an estimated 5,800 people were killed due to a major leak of deadly chemical methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India. After Bhopal’s incident, the chemical industries have gone through extensive reviews. William G. Simeral, former board chairman put up his remark in an annual meeting of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) that “while the industry saw itself as a producer of high-tech jobs and exports, the public saw only leaking drums and hazardous waste sites- and that image meant trouble for the industry” [1].

With the occurrence of more life-threatening chemical pollution, chemical industries realised that their industrial practices have a direct influence on the well-being of the society. Effective chemicals management emphasises a preventive approach whereby it takes into account impacts over the whole life cycle of products and services including all aspects of safe, responsible and economical chemicals handling from its formulation, through its final disposal [2]. What has resulted is a tough set of self-imposed environmental standards that embraces responsible initiatives which makes an important contribution to opening up the chemical industries to public scrutiny, dialogue and accountability [1].

Shortly after Bhopal disaster, a detailed program called “Responsible Care” which promotes responsible initiatives has been initiated by Canadian Industry Association of Canada in 1985. Responsible Care is the global chemical industry’s environmental, health and safety (EHS) initiative to drive continuous improvement in performance, technologies, processes and products over the life cycles to safeguard environment and human. This program is a voluntary initiative adopted by various chemical companies to promote good chemicals management as well as to continuously improve EHS performance in terms of their operations and products in a manner responsible to the concerns of the public.

In Malaysia, Responsible Care program was launched by Chemical Industries Council of Malaysia (CICM) in 1994. CICM is the steward of Responsible Care program and has developed 6 Codes of Management Practices which cover the EHS measures for the entire life-cycle of chemicals from initial research and development to ultimate disposal. These codes do not dictate how a company should operate but instead they are performance indicators that encourage commitment, innovation and continuous improvement. The codes of management practices are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Codes of management practices of Responsible Care program in Malaysia.
Table 1: Codes of management practices of Responsible Care program in Malaysia.

However, to date, there are only 122 companies have pledged their commitment to Responsible Care program. Less than 10% of the signatory companies are Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The signatory companies are mainly Multi National Corporations (MNCs), bigger local companies which have better technology and more resources in implementing this program. The participation of the SMEs in Responsible Care program remains low.

The Malaysian chemical industries must possess practical, effective and responsible governance to attract more foreign investments. The chemical industries not only must fulfill its mission – to generate profit to satisfy the needs of the shareholders, but it must respond to the sustainable development challenge of profitability, social-economic, and EHS responsibilities. Apart from profitability and ensuring high quality products to meet growing customer’s demands, the Responsible Care also encourages signatory company to meet their corporate social responsibility through its community awareness and outreach programmes [3, 4].

Malaysian chemical industries must possess practical, effective and responsible governance to attract more foreign investments

Responsible Care is not merely forward-looking management concept promoted by chemical companies, but it is now an internationally recognised set of standards by United Nations and many national governments. In essence, Responsible Care has become one of the best initiatives to be embraced by industrial operations, particularly in the chemical industries, to ensure meeting the objectives of SAICM: “to achieve by 2020, the use and production of chemicals in ways that lead to the minimisation of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment”. Also, the former United Nation Secretary General Kofi Annan praised Responsible Care program as “inspiring models of voluntary self-regulation for other associations to follow.”


[1] Entine, J. (1996). After Bhopal: Responsible Care, At work stories of tomorrow’s workplace, www.jonentine.com
[2] Kubota, K., Kamizono, A., Miyachi, S., Yuki, M., Masuda, M. (2011). Development and verification of new evaluation indicators for chemical management in corporations to meet WSSD goals. Journal of Cleaner Production, 19: 1134-1140.
[3] Given, M. (2007). Motivation of chemical industry social responsibility through Responsible Care. Health Policy, 81: 85-92.
[4] Lee, K. E., Mokhtar, M., Goh, C. T., Singh, H., Chan, P. W. (2014). Initiatives and challenges of a chemical industries council in developing country: the case of Malaysia. Journal of Cleaner Production, DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.08.010

About the Authors

DR. LEE KHAI ERN & DR. GOH CHOO TA are Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Institute for Environment and Development (LESTARI), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. PROF. DATO’ DR. MAZLIN MOKHTAR is the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research & Innovation Affairs) of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia cum Principal Research Fellow at LESTARI. Find out more about Dr. Lee by visiting his Scientific Malaysian profile at http://www.scientificmalaysian.com/members/khaiernlee/


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