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Code of Ethics

The ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums is a reference text setting standards for the practice of museum professionals.

The ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums sets minimum professional standards and encourages the recognition of values shared by the international museum community.

This reference tool provides guidance and is presented as a series of principles supported by guidelines detailing expected professional practice. It was drafted in a cross-cutting manner and conceived as an instrument of professional self-control. ICOM members must accept and comply with the Code’s rules.

The ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums addresses diverse museum-related topics such as acquisition procedures, compliance with legislation, management of resources, security, returns and restitutions. The Code also advocates strong principles playing a key role in the fight against illicit traffic, for instance concerning due diligence and provenance.

ICOM promotes and advocates its Code during training sessions organised all over the world, including practical cases studies, to help museums professionals apply its values and principles. A Standing Committee on Ethics (ETHCOM) is dedicated to handling museums’ ethical issues that are brought to its attention.

After being first adopted in 1986, and revised in 2004, the Code has been translated into 38 languages.

Find all translations

Revision of the Code of Ethics

Following the 25th General Conference of ICOM, held in Kyoto in 2019, ICOM decided that the Code should be reviewed and, if necessary, revised (141 Session of the Executive Board). Should the outcome of the review indicate the need of a revision, a vote on a revised code will be held during the 26th General Conference of ICOM in Prague. The process, which will include consultations with the ICOM Membership, will be coordinated by the ICOM Standing Committee for Ethics (ETHCOM). To ensure an outcome that is coherent with the revision of the museum definition, ETHCOM will work in close collaboration with the Standing Committee for the Museum Definition (ICOM Define).


About the museum definition 

Read more about the revision of the ICOM Code of Ethics

The ICOM Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums, established by ICOM’s International Committee for Natural History Museums (NATHIST) in collaboration with ICOM’s Ethics Committee (ETHCOM), was formally approved at the 28th ICOM General Assembly on 17 August, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.

The purpose of the document is to define ethical standards on issues specific to Natural History Museums, providing standards of professional practice that can serve as a normative basis for museum institutions.

The Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums begins with a position statement that explains the purpose of Natural History Museums and their responsibilities. It then focuses on the specific challenges of Natural History Museums in six sections, from the presentation of human remains and the dissemination of scientific data to the collection of rocks, minerals and fossils. The Code ends with specific standards for taxidermy.

Checklist on ethics of cultural property ownership

Considering the complexity of the ethical questions affecting the work of museums today, the Checklist is a tool for two purposes: it sets out the 8 organising principles that shape the detailed articles of the ICOM Code, as well as providing orientation and support in dealing with these complex topics; and it offers a list of contacts for further advice on particular questions.