Code of Ethics ( 2006)


International Society of Ethnobiology


International Society of Ethnobiology

Date Approved: 

November, 2006

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Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) provides a framework fordecision-making and conduct for ethnobiological research and related activities. This Code of Ethicshas its origins in the Declaration of Belém agreed upon in 1988 at the Founding of the InternationalSociety of Ethnobiology (in Belém, Brazil). It has been developed over the course of more than adecadeand is the culmination of a series of consensus-based fora and discussion processes involvingthe ISE Membership.

The Code of Ethics is comprised of four parts: (i) Preamble, (ii) Purpose, (ii) Principles, and (iv)Practical Guidelines. The Code of Ethics reflects the vision of the ISE as stated in Article 2.0:

The ISE is committed to achieving a greater understanding of the complex relationships, bothpast and present that exist within and between human societies and their environments. TheSociety endeavors to promote a harmonious existence between humankind and the Bios for thebenefit of future generations. Ethnobiologists recognize that Indigenous peoples, traditionalsocieties, and local communities are critical to the conservation of biological, cultural andlinguistic diversity.

All Members of the ISE are bound in good faith to abide by the Code of Ethics as a condition ofmembership.


The concept of "mindfulness" is an important value embedded in this Code, which invokes anobligation to be fully aware of one's knowing and unknowing, doing and undoing, action and inaction.

It is acknowledged that much research has been undertaken in the past without the sanction or priorinformed consent of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities and that suchresearch has caused harm and adversely impacted their rights and responsibilities related to biocultural heritage1.

The ISE is committed to working in genuine partnership and collaboration with Indigenous peoples,traditional societies and local communities to avoid perpetuating these past injustices and buildtowards developing positive, beneficial and harmonious relationships in the field of ethnobiology.

The ISE recognises that culture and language are intrinsically connected to land and territory, andcultural and linguistic diversity are inextricably linked to biological diversity. Therefore, the ISErecognizes the responsibilities and rights of Indigenous, traditional and local peoples to thepreservation and continued development of their cultures and languages and to the control of theirlands, territories and traditional resources as key to the perpetuation of all forms of diversity on Earth.


      The Purpose of this Code of Ethics is to facilitate establishing ethical and equitable relationships:
  1. to optimise the positive outcomes and reduce as much as possible the adverse effects of research(in all its forms, including applied research and development work) and related activities ofethnobiologists that can disrupt or disenfranchise Indigenous peoples, traditional societies andlocal communities from their customary and chosen lifestyles; and
  2. to provide a set of principles and practices to govern the conduct of all Members of the ISE whoare involved in or proposing to be involved in research in all its forms, especially that concerningcollation and use of traditional knowledge or collections of flora, fauna, or any other element ofbiocultural heritage found on community lands or territories.

The ISE recognises, supports and prioritises the efforts of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies andlocal communities to undertake and own their research, collections, images, recordings, databases andpublications. This Code of Ethics is intended to enfranchise Indigenous peoples, traditional societiesand local communities conducting research within their own society, for their own use.

This Code of Ethics also serves to guide ethnobiologists and other researchers, business leaders, policymakers, governments, non-government organisations, academic institutions, funding agencies andothers seeking meaningful partnerships with Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and localcommunities and thus to avoid the perpetuation of past injustices to these peoples. The ISE recognisesthat, for such partnerships to succeed, all relevant research activities (i.e., planning, implementation,analysis, reporting, and application of results) must be collaborative. Consideration must be given tothe needs of all humanity, and to the maintenance of robust scientific standards, whilst recognizing andrespecting the cultural integrity of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities.

A commitment to meaningful collaboration and reciprocal responsibility by all parties is needed toachieve the purpose of this Code of Ethics and the objectives of the ISE.

This Code of Ethics recognizes and honors traditional and customary laws, protocols, andmethodologies extant within the communities where collaborative research is proposed. It shouldenable but not over-ride such community-level processes and decision-making structures. It shouldfacilitate the development of community-centered, mutually-negotiated research agreements that serveto strengthen community goals.


The Principles of this Code embrace, support, and embody the concept and implementation of traditional resource rights2 as articulated in established principles and practices of international instruments and declarations including, but not limited to, those documents referred to in Annex 2 of the ISE Constitution. The Principles also facilitate compliance with the standards set by national and international law and policy and customary practice. The following Principles are the fundamental assumptions that form this Code of Ethics.

1. Principle of Prior Rights and Responsibilities

This principle recognises that Indigenous peoples, traditional societies, and local communities have prior, proprietary rights over, interests in and cultural responsibilities for all air, land, and waterways, and the natural resources within them that these peoples have traditionally inhabited or used, together with all knowledge, intellectual property and traditional resource rights associated with such resources and their use.

2. Principle of Self-Determination

This principle recognises that Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities have a right to self-determination (or local determination for traditional and local communities) and that researchers and associated organisations will acknowledge and respect such rights in their dealings with these peoples and their communities.

3.Principle of Inalienability

This principle recognises the inalienable rights of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and localcommunities in relation to their traditional territories and the natural resources (including biologicaland genetic resources) within them and associated traditional knowledge. These rights are collective bynature but can include individual rights. It shall be for Indigenous peoples, traditional societies andlocal communities to determine for themselves the nature, scope and alienability of their respectiveresource rights regimes.

4.Principle of Traditional Guardianship

This principle recognises the holistic interconnectedness of humanity with the ecosystems of ourSacred Earth and the obligation and responsibility of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and localcommunities to preserve and maintain their role as traditional guardians of these ecosystems throughthe maintenance of their cultures, identities, languages, mythologies, spiritual beliefs and customarylaws and practices, according to the right of self-determination.

5.Principle of Active Participation

This principle recognises the crucial importance of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and localcommunities to actively participate in all phases of research and related activities from inception tocompletion, as well as in application of research results. Active participation includes collaboration onresearch design to address local needs and priorities, and prior review of results before publication ordissemination to ensure accuracy of information and adherence to the standards represented by thisCode of Ethics.

6. Principle of Full Disclosure

This principle recognises that Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities areentitled to be fully informed about the nature, scope and ultimate purpose of the proposed research(including objective, methodology, data collection, and the dissemination and application of results).This information is to be given in forms that are understood and useful at a local level and in a mannerthat takes into consideration the body of knowledge, cultural preferences and modes of transmission ofthese peoples and communities.

7. Principle of Educated Prior Informed Consent

Educated prior informed consent must be established before any research is undertaken, at individualand collective levels, as determined by community governance structures. Prior informed consent isrecognised as an ongoing process that is based on relationship and maintained throughout all phases ofresearch. This principle recognises that prior informed consent requires an educative process thatemploys bilingual and intercultural education methods and tools, as appropriate, to ensureunderstanding by all parties involved. Establishing prior informed consent also presumes that alldirectly affected communities will be provided complete information in an understandable formregarding the purpose and nature of the proposed programme, project, study or activities, the probableresults and implications, including all reasonably foreseeable benefits and risks of harm (be theytangible or intangible) to the affected communities. Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and localcommunities have the right to make decisions on any programme, project, study or activities thatdirectly affect them. In cases where the intentions of proposed research or related activities are notconsistent with the interests of these peoples, societies or communities, they have a right to say no.

8. Principle of Confidentiality

This principle recognises that Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities, at theirsole discretion, have the right to exclude from publication and/or to have kept confidential anyinformation concerning their culture, identity, language, traditions, mythologies, spiritual beliefs orgenomics. Parties to the research have a responsibility to be aware of and comply with local systemsfor management of knowledge and local innovation, especially as related to sacred and secretknowledge. Furthermore, such confidentiality shall be guaranteed by researchers and other potentialusers. Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities also have the rights to privacyand anonymity, at their discretion.

9. Principle of Respect

This principle recognises the necessity for researchers to respect the integrity, morality and spiritualityof the culture, traditions and relationships of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies, and localcommunities with their worlds.

  • Principle of Active Protection

This principles recognises the importance of researchers taking active measures to protect and toenhance the relationships of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities with theirenvironment and thereby promote the maintenance of cultural and biological diversity.

10. Principle of Precaution

This principle acknowledges the complexity of interactions between cultural and biologicalcommunities, and thus the inherent uncertainty of effects due to ethnobiological and other research.The precautionary principle advocates taking proactive, anticipatory action to identify and to preventbiological or cultural harms resulting from research activities or outcomes, even if cause-and-effectrelationships have not yet been scientifically proven. The prediction and assessment of such biologicaland cultural harms must include local criteria and indicators, thus must fully involve indigenouspeoples, traditional societies, and local communities. This also includes a responsibility to avoid theimposition of external or foreign conceptions and standards.

11. Principle of Reciprocity, Mutual Benefit and Equitable Sharing

This principle recognises that Indigenous peoples, traditional societies, and local communities areentitled to share in and benefit from tangible and intangible processes, results and outcomes that accruedirectly or indirectly and over the shorter and longer term for ethnobiological research and relatedactivities that involve their knowledge and resources. Mutual benefit and equitable sharing will occurin ways that are culturally appropriate and consistent with the wishes of the community involved.

12. Principle of Supporting Indigenous Research

This principle recognizes and supports the efforts of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies, and localcommunities in undertaking their own research based on their own epistemologies and methodologies,in creating their own knowledge-sharing mechanisms, and in utilising their own collections anddatabases in accordance with their self-defined needs. Capacity-building, training exchanges andtechnology transfer for communities and local institutions to enable these activities should be includedin research, development and co-management activities to the greatest extent possible.

13. Principle of The Dynamic Interactive Cycle

This principle recognises that research and related activities should not be initiated unless there isreasonable assurance that all stages can be completed from (a) preparation and evaluation, to (b) fullimplementation, to (c) evaluation, dissemination and return of results to the communities incomprehensible and locally appropriate forms, to (d) training and education as an integral part of theproject, including practical application of results. Thus, all projects must be seen as cycles ofcontinuous and on-going communication and interaction.

14. Principle of Remedial Action

This principle recognises that every effort will be made to avoid any adverse consequences toIndigenous peoples, traditional societies, and local communities from research and related activitiesand outcomes. Not withstanding the application of standards set out by this Code of Ethics, should anysuch adverse consequence occur, discussion will be had with the local peoples or communityconcerned to decide on what remedial action may be necessary to redress or mitigate adverseconsequences. Any such remedial action may include restitution, where appropriate and agreed.

15. Principle of Acknowledgement and Due Credit

This principle recognises that Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communitiesmust be acknowledged in accordance with their preference and given due credit in all agreedpublications and other forms of dissemination for their tangible and intangible contributions toresearch activities. Co-authorship should be considered when appropriate. Acknowledgement and duecredit to Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities extend equally to secondaryor downstream uses and applications and researchers will act in good faith to ensure the connections tooriginal sources of knowledge and resources are maintained in the public record.

16. Principle of Diligence

This principle recognises that researchers are expected to have a working understanding of the localcontext prior to entering into research relationships with a community. This understanding includesknowledge of and willingness to comply with local governance systems, cultural laws and protocols,social customs and etiquette. Researchers are expected to conduct research in the local language to thedegree possible, which may involve language fluency or employment of interpreters.

Practical Guidelines

The following guidelines are intended as a practical application of the preceding Principles.Recognising that this Code of Ethics is a living document that needs to adapt over time to meetchanging understandings and circumstances, if guidelines have not yet been articulated for a givensituation, the Principles should be used as the reference point for developing appropriate practices.

Similarly, it is recognized that Indigenous, traditional or local peoples conducting research within theirown communities, for their own uses, may need to comply with their own cultural protocols andpractices. In the event of inconsistency between such local requirements and these guidelines, allparties involved will commit to work collaboratively to develop appropriate practices.

The Practical Guidelines apply to any and all research, collections, databases, publications, images,audio or video recordings, or other products of research and related activities undertaken.

    1. Prior to undertaking any research activities, a good understanding of the local communityinstitution(s) with relevant authority and their interest in the research to be undertaken, as well asknowledge of cultural protocols of the community shall be developed. A thorough effort shall bemade in good faith to enhance such understandings through ongoing communication and activeparticipation throughout the duration of the research process.
    2. Educated prior informed consent must be established prior to undertaking any researchactivities. Such consent is ideally represented in writing and/or tape recording, uses language andformat that are clearly understood by all parties to the research, and is developed with thepersons or deliberating bodies identified as the most representative authorities from eachpotentially affected community.
    3. As a component of educated prior informed consent, there will be full disclosure topotentially affected communities and mechanisms to ensure mutual understanding of thefollowing, based on the reasonably foreseeable effects:
      1. The full range of potential benefits (tangible and intangible) to the communities,researchers and any other parties involved;
      2. The extent of reasonably foreseeable harms (tangible and intangible) to such communities;
      3. All relevant affiliations of the individual(s) or organization(s) seeking to undertake the activities,including where appropriate the contact information of institutional research ethics boards andcopies of ethics board approvals for research;
      4. All sponsors of the individual(s) or organization(s) involved in the undertaking of the activities.
      5. Any intent to commercialise outcomes of the activities, or foreseeable commercial potential thatmay be of interest to the parties involved in the project, and/or to third parties who may accessproject outcomes directly (e.g., by contacting researchers or communities) or indirectly (e.g.,through the published literature).
    4. Prior to undertaking research activities, the following must be ensured by researchproponents:
      1. Full communication and consultation has been undertaken with potentially affected communitiesto develop the terms of the research in a way that complies with the Principles.
      2. Approval is granted in the manner defined by the local governance system of each affectedcommunity.
      3. Permissions and approvals have been granted from government as well as other local and nationalauthorities, as required by local, national or international law and policy.
    5. All persons and organizations undertaking research activities shall do so throughout ingood faith, acting in accordance with, and with due respect for, the cultural norms and dignity ofall potentially affected communities, and with a commitment that collecting specimens andinformation, whether of a zoological, botanical, mineral or cultural nature, and compiling data orpublishing information thereon, means doing so only in the holistic context, respectful of normsand belief systems of the relevant communities. This includes supporting or creating provenancemechanisms to ensure collections are clearly traceable to their origins for purposes of due creditand acknowledgement, establishing "prior art" in the event of future ownership claims, andfacilitating a re-consent process to develop new mutually-agreed terms for further use or applications of collections or derivatives of collections.

    Researchers are encouraged to register collected information in local databases and registrieswhere they exist, and explore mechanisms such as community certificates of origin linked todatabases. Researchers are encouraged to support and build capacity for community-based datamanagement systems to the extent possible.

    Any intellectual property ownership claim or application related to the knowledge or associatedresources from the collaboration research should not work against the cultural integrity or livelihood ofcommunities involved.

      1. Mutually-agreed terms and conditions of the research shall be set out in an agreement thatuses language and format clearly understandable to all parties. The agreement will address andadhere to the following standards:
        1. Will be represented in writing and/or tape recording if permitted by the community, using locallanguage whenever possible. If writing or tape-recording are culturally prohibited, the partiesshall work in collaboration to find an acceptable alternative form of documenting the terms ofthe agreement.
        2. Will be made with each potentially affected community after full disclosure, consultation, andestablishment of educated prior informed consent regarding mutual benefit and equitablesharing, compensation, remedial action and any other issues arising between parties to theresearch.
        3. Will address the elements outlined in (6b) above as related to all foreseeable uses and propertyownership issues of the research outcomes, including derivative forms they may take such asbiological and other samples, photos, films, videotapes, audiotapes, public broadcasts,translations, communications through the electronic media, including the internet. This includesclear agreement on rights and conditions related to who holds, maintains, uses, controls, owns,and has rights to the research processes, data, and outcomes (direct and indirect).
        4. Will specify attribution, credit, authorship, co-authorship, and due acknowledgement for allcontributors to the research processes and outcomes, recognizing and valuing academic as wellas cultural and local expertises;
        5. Will specify how and in what forms the resulting information and outcomes shall be shared witheach affected community, and ensure that access and forms are appropriate and acceptable tothat community. Community data and information management systems, such as local registriesand databases, shall be supported to the greatest extent possible.
        6. Will represent what understandings have been reached regarding what is potentially sacred, secretor confidential and how such will be treated and communicated, if at all, within and beyond thedirect parties to the research.
      2. Objectives, conditions and mutually-agreed terms should be totally revealed and agreed to byall parties prior to the initiation of research activities. It is recognised that collaborative research, bydesign, may be iterative, emergent and require modifications or adaptations. When such is the case,these changes shall be brought to the attention of and agreed to by all parties to the research.
      3. All members of the ISE or affiliated organizations of ISE shall respect and comply with moratoriums by communities and countries on collection of information or materials that they wouldotherwise intend to include in their research, unless such moratorium is lifted to allow the research.
      4. All educational uses of research materials shall be consistent with a good faith respect forthe cultural integrity of all affected communities, and, as much as practical, developed incollaboration with such communities for mutual use.
      5. All existing project materials in the possession, custody or control of an ISE member oraffiliated organization shall be treated in a manner consistent with this Code of Ethics. All affectedcommunities shall be notified, to the extent possible, of the existence of such materials, and their rightto equitable sharing, compensation, remedial action, ownership, repatriation or other entitlements, asappropriate. Prior informed consent shall not be presumed for uses of biocultural information in the"public domain" and diligence shall be used to ensure that provenance or original source(s) of theknowledge and associated resources are included and traceable, to the degree possible, in furtherpublications, uses and other means of dissemination.
      6. If during the cycle of a project it is determined that the practices of any parties to the researchare harmful to components of an ecosystem, it shall be incumbent upon the parties to first bring suchpractices and the impacts thereof to the notice of the offenders and attempt to establish a mutuallyagreed conflict resolution process, prior to informing the local community and/or governmentauthorities of such practices and impacts.
      7. ISE members shall in good faith endeavour to consider and ensure that project proposals,planning, and budgets are appropriate to collaborative interdisciplinary and cross-culturalresearch that complies with the ISE Code of Ethics. This may require prior consideration ofelements such as: extended timeframes to enable permissions, development of mutually-agreedterms and ongoing communication; additional budget categories; research ethics and intellectualproperty ownership considerations that are in addition to or even inconsistent with policies ofsponsoring institutions; additional reporting requirements and sharing of outcomes; andmechanisms and forms of communication with parties to the research activities, includingthe potential need for language fluency and translation. ISE members shall also endeavour to raiseawareness among funding bodies, academic institutions and others about the increased time and coststhat may be involved in adhering to this Code of Ethics.


      1. Biocultural heritage is the cultural heritage (both the tangible and intangible including customary law, folklore,spiritual values, knowledge, innovations and practices) and biological heritage (diversity of genes, varieties, speciesand ecosystem provisioning, regulating, and cultural services) of Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and localcommunities, which often are inextricably linked through the interaction between peoples and nature over time andshaped by their socio-ecological and economic context. This heritage includes the landscape as the spatial dimensionin which the evolution of Indigenous biocultural heritage takes place. This heritage is passed on from generation togeneration, developed, owned and administered collectively by stakeholder communities according to customarylaw.
      2. Traditional resources rights is defined by Posey and Dutfield (1996:3) as follows: The term "traditional" refers to thecherished practices, beliefs, customs, knowledge and cultural heritage of indigenous and local communities who live inclose association with the Earth; "resource" is used in its broadest sense to mean all knowledge and technology, esthetic andspiritual qualities, tangible and intangible sources that together, are deemed by local communities to be necessary to ensurehealthy and fulfilling lifestyles for present and future generations; and "rights" refers to the basic inalienable guarantee to allhuman beings and the collective entities in which they choose to participate of the necessities to achieve and maintain thedignity and well-being of themselves, their predecessors, and their descendants.