Northrop Grumman [NOC] Chief Kathy Warden on Thursday said the company will soon discontinue its work on a program related to cluster munitions as part of the company’s effort to be mindful when it comes to human rights and other social and environmental concerns.
For an aerospace and defense leader, Warden during the company’s year-end earnings call spent more time than most corporate heads in the industry touting Northrop Grumman’s rankings on various environmental, social and governance (ESG) indexes.
“In addition, we remain mindful of the role our products and services play around the world,” Warden said during her prepared remarks. “As we continue to consider our portfolio, we have decided to exit by year’s end, a legacy Orbital ATK aging and surveillance contract that supports testing of cluster munition components. In our endeavors to enable global security and human advancement, we recognize the importance of our environmental, social and governance responsibilities and we expect to continue leading our industry forward.”
Warden said the contract is small and helps provide for the safe removal of cluster munitions.
Northrop Grumman acquired Orbital ATK in 2018. Orbital ATK produced rocket motors used in cluster munitions and produced the CBU-87/B combined effects munition cluster bomb for the Air Force. According to Stop Explosive Investments, which is part of a global campaign to end investments in cluster munitions, Orbital ATK has a contract with the Air Force to test components of the CBU-87/B.
Cluster munitions are typically carried by a larger missile or weapon and distributed for wide area effects. However, international human rights groups have raised concerns for years that the scattering of bomblets can result in injuries and deaths to civilians and also because some of the sub-munitions don’t explode until being disturbed or handled by unaware civilians.
Asked by one analyst on the call about how Northrop Grumman applies sustainability as a filter across its business, Warden said the company looks at the capabilities it provides and how customers will use these capabilities.
“I don’t expect there to be significant change in our portfolio as a result,” adding that the company already has been applying ESG as a “lens” to decide what business it will invest in.
In the case of the cluster munitions surveillance contract, Warden said that “we recognize that even supporting an area like cluster munitions for investors is of concern because safe removal implies that at one point there was an embracing of the use of these products.”
She added that “when we look at our portfolio, we’re going to continue to recognize we support our government and our allies in the important work of enabling our troops to do their work but at the same time be thoughtful about potential human rights implications and how these technologies may be used in the future and provide equal consideration to safeguards associated with them.”
Warden highlighted Northrop Grumman’s top ESG rankings in a number of indexes, including the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the annual CDP “A List” for environmental sustainability, DiversityInc’s Top 50 company list for diversity, and as the only aerospace and defense company in the top 25 of Equileap’s U.S. Gender Equality Index.