An open forum for reflection about ethics = an ICOM International Committee on Ethical Dilemmas?

In everyday museum work, we often face ethical questions and challenges which can present themselves in many ways and situations: our contact with guests, informants and colleagues; in the handling of artefacts, presentations and exhibitions – or economic questions. Many museums and museum professionals face the same ethical issues, especially while working as societal actors.

We would like to initiate a new ICOM International Committee which will function as an open forum for all museum professionals for reflection, sharing and discussing ethical issues and thereby help museum professionals to make more informed choices.

Especially in relation to museums’ new social engagement – exemplified by this year’s theme for the International Museums Day «Museums and contested histories: Saying the unspeakable in museums» – illustrates the need for a permanent open-for-all forum for reflections about museums’ relation to the society they are part of.


We need both ETHCOM and an International Committee

Making rules regulating ethical conduct has been for decades and still is the task of ICOMs Standing Committee on Ethics (ETHCOM) and the resulting ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums is the recognised worldwide reference for ethical conduct.

But while ETHCOM makes rules and deals with cases bordering on legal considerations, have a limited number of politically appointed members and are reporting to the ICOM President/Executive Board, ethics is a topic so diverse and important that we also need a forum open to ICOM’s members for the exchange and development of professional insight on ethical challenges, a forum that is self-recruiting and self-governed, so that all members of ICOM have equal access to the discussions.

ETHCOM and an International Committee about ethics will have different functions and be complementary to each other. The International Committee shall not make rules or judgements or formal statements about right or wrong. This should be stated specifically in the rules for an eventual International Committee about ethics.

The establishment of a new International Committee requires the support of at least 50 ICOM members from 10 countries in 2 continents. The decision is finally made by the Executive Board.