Cambodia | Photo by Caroline Bennett, 2015

Principles of Professional Responsibility and Ethical Conduct

(As adopted in 1987 and amended in 1990, 1992, and 2016)


Ko tā mātou ngā mema o ASAA/NZ, he ū ki te Tiriti o Waitangi hei tūāpapa o te motu whānui o Aotearoa.

Ko tā mātou ngā mema o ASAA/NZ, he hāpai i te mana whenua o te iwi Māori o Aotearoa, o Niu Tireni.

We, the members of the ASAA/NZ, are committed to the Treaty of Waitangi as the foundation stone of Aotearoa New Zealand as a nation.

We, the members of the ASAA/NZ, recognise the rights of the tangata whenua as the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

How the Preamble was Added to the ASAANZ Code of Ethics (by Jeff Sluka)

The need for a code of professional ethics was first expressed within the NZASA (the precursor of the ASAA/NZ) in 1981 by contract researchers. At that time, Nancy Bowers was appointed to do preliminary work on drawing up a code for the association, and then at the 1986 AGM it was decided to appoint a committee to draft a code or statement on ethics similar to the AAA’s “Principles of Professional Responsibility.”  The committee was composed of Jeff Sluka, Steve Webster, Julie Park, and Ngahuia te Awekotuku.  They concluded that it was too difficult and unnecessary to write a completely new code of ethics, and instead recommended adopting the AAA Principles with some amendments adapting it to the New Zealand context. 

At the 1987 AGM, the committee presented a draft “New Zealand Association of Social Anthropologists: Principles of Professional Responsibility and Ethical Conduct.” Following discussion, this was then circulated to the membership and all anthropology departments at New Zealand universities for comments and recommendations, and a session was scheduled for the 1988 meetings to further discuss and debate it and, if appropriate, vote for its ratification. After six years of discussion and development, the code was subsequently ratified at the 1988 AGM. 

At the 1988 AGM, Judith Simon raised the issue of the place of the Treaty of Waitangi and suggested that the concept of partnership and the ‘spirit’ of the Treaty should be built in to the association. A working party was established to consider ways the principles of the Treaty could be ‘embraced’ by the association. The members were Judith Simon, Grahame Smith, Anne Salmond, and Waerete Norman, who concluded that the best way forward was to develop a simple and general statement which could be included as a preamble to the association’s constitution and ethics code. This proposal was approved at the 1989 AGM.

At the 1990 AGM, the Treaty of Waitangi working party tabled a draft preamble which was discussed and minor grammatical amendments were made. The following draft was then circulated to the membership for comment and feedback:  

Ka tumanaako maatou nga mema ki te Tiriti o Waitangi, he kaamaka hoki no Aotearoa Niutiirena katoa.

We, the members of the NZASA, are committed to the goals and practices of the Treaty of Waitangi, as a founding cornerstone of New Zealand as a nation.

Ka tumanaako anoo maatou nga mema ki te tangata whenua i runga i te mea he iwi tuuturuu hoki no Aotearoa Niutiirena nei.

We, the members of the NZAA, recognise the rights of the tangata whenua as the indigenous people of New Zealand.

A proposal to add this Preamble to the ethics code was then approved at the 1991 AGM.

In 2016, the Executive Committee approved some minor changes to spelling and grammatical errors in the Code of Ethics, and at the same time sought advice about the English and te reo Māori versions of the preamble. Margaret Kawharu and Hone Waengarangi Morris indicated that the te reo Māori version could be revised to better reflect the English version. Hone Waengarangi Morris provided the Executive Committee with a revised translation into te reo Māori, which was accepted in 2016. This is the version in use today.


The relationship between ethics and research is one of the most important problems faced by anthropologists. The demand for accountability and ethical responsibility in research is valid and has become irresistible, as instances to the contrary have resulted in impaired research opportunities, infringement on the autonomy of peoples studied, and in some instances harm to research participants.

The following Principles of Professional Responsibility and Ethical Conduct set forth the major ethical issues confronting New Zealand anthropologists in their work. It should be borne in mind that the issue of professional ethics, and the principles that follow, have been the focus of considerable debate and disagreement. The ethical problems faced by anthropologists have changed over time and have become more difficult to resolve, and there is not now, nor is there ever likely to be, any definitive agreement concerning either the nature of these problems or their solutions. With this in mind, this set of principles of professional responsibility and ethical conduct is intended to be a working document, amenable to revision after discussion at any AGM of the Association.

Ethical principles are vital for anthropologists because important ethical issues arise in their work. This set of principles is intended to heighten awareness of the ethical issues that face anthropologists, and to offer them workable guidelines to help resolve these issues. It encourages anthropologists to educate themselves in this area, and to exercise their own good judgement. It is also intended to provide protection for anthropologists who come under pressure to act in ways contrary to their professional ethics.

It is recognised that ethical responsibilities sometimes conflict with one another, and the following principles are presented with full recognition of the social and cultural pluralism of host societies and the consequent plurality of values, interests, and demands in those societies. Nonetheless, it is imperative that anthropologists be knowledgeable about ethical issues, be concerned about the welfare of research participants and about the future uses of the knowledge they acquire, and accept personal responsibility for their decisions and actions. Where these imperatives cannot be met, anthropologists would be well-advised not to pursue the particular work in question.

The following principles are deemed fundamental to the anthropologist’s responsible, ethical pursuit of the profession.

Photo by Piers Locke, 2011

Photo by Piers Locke, 2011

It is an idyllic sight to witness the handlers of the Khorsor Hattisar take their elephant charges out to graze. For them it is just part of the daily routine, but for a foreign tourist it is a privileged sight that will most likely provide a treasured memory. Without these men performing an age-old tradition that requires skill, bravery and commitment, Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park could neither protect the endangered species it contains, nor support its attendant tourist economy. I have been most fortunate to be able to live among them and learn from them - Piers Locke

1. Responsibility to Research Participants

In their work, anthropologists’ paramount responsibility is to their research participants. When there is a conflict of interest, these individuals must come first. Anthropologists must do everything in their power to protect their physical, social, and psychological welfare and to honour their dignity and privacy.

a. Where research involves the acquisition of material and information transferred on the assumption of trust between persons, it is axiomatic that the rights, interests, and sensitivities of those persons must be safeguarded.

b. The aims of the investigation should be communicated as well as possible to research participants.

c. If at all possible, the approval of the host population or groups studied should be sought before fieldwork is begun. Anthropologists should also recognise and respect the right to choose not to be studied. Ethical research practice requires respecting research participant’s rights to refuse permission to conduct research, to decline to participate, and to rescind permission and discontinue participation at any time without harm.

d. Every effort should be exerted to cooperate with members of the host society in the planning and execution of research projects. Ideally, fieldwork based research should be a joint effort or partnership based on a collaborative and equal relationship between anthropologists and research participants or host communities.

e. While there is always an implied assumption of trust between researchers and research participants, every effort should be made to reach an explicit agreement to this effect.

f. Research participants have a right to remain anonymous. This right should be respected both where it has been promised explicitly and where no clear understanding to the contrary has been reached. These strictures apply to the collection of data by means of cameras, tape recorders, and other data-gathering devices, as well as data collected in face-to-face interviews or in participant-observation. Research participants should understand the capacities of such devices; they should be free to reject them if they wish; and if they accept them, the results obtained should be consonant with their right to welfare, dignity, and privacy. Despite every effort being made to preserve anonymity it should be made clear to research participants that such anonymity may be compromised unintentionally.

g. There is an obligation to reflect on the foreseeable repercussions of research and publication on the general population being studied.

h. The anticipated consequences of research should be communicated as fully as possible to the individuals and groups likely to be affected.

i. There should be no exploitation of research participants for personal gain. Fair return should be given them for their help and services. Ideally, anthropological research should have mutual benefits for the anthropologist and research participants. Anthropologists should recognise their debt to research participants and their obligation to reciprocate in appropriate ways. In order to maximize such potential benefits, the needs of research participants and the host community for research related to their welfare and development, as they perceive them, should be considered in setting research priorities, and participants should be involved in a collaborative relationship during all phases of the research.

j. In accordance with the Association’s general position on clandestine and secret research, no reports should be provided to sponsors that are not also available to the general public and, where practicable, to the population studied.

2. Responsibility to the Wider Society

Anthropologists are also responsible to the public - all presumed consumers of their professional efforts. To them they owe a commitment to candour and to truth in the dissemination of their research results and in the statement of their opinions as students of humanity.

a. Anthropologists should not communicate their findings secretly to some and withhold them from others.

b. Anthropologists should not knowingly falsify or colour their findings.

c. In providing professional opinions, anthropologists are responsible not only for their content but also for integrity in explaining both these opinions and their bases.

d. As people who devote their professional lives to understanding humanity, anthropologists bear a positive responsibility to speak out publicly, both individually and collectively, on what they know and what they believe as a result of their professional expertise gained in the study of human beings. That is, they bear a professional responsibility to contribute to an “adequate definition of reality” upon which public opinion and public policy may be based. However, anthropologists should not present themselves as spokespersons for people who have not given them their consent to act in such a capacity, and they should advocate the right of research participants to be heard directly in contexts where their lives may be affected. 

e. In public discourse, anthropologists should be honest about their qualifications and cognisant of the limitations of anthropological expertise.

f. Anthropologists should be aware that, in requiring students to do field research purely as a training exercise, they may be making an unfair imposition on research participants. Unless there is some potential benefit for the research participants, and not just for the students involved, such exercises should be avoided.

3. Responsibility to the Discipline and Colleagues

Anthropologists bear responsibility for the good reputation of the discipline and its practitioners.

a. Anthropologists should undertake no secret research nor any research the results of which cannot be freely derived and publicly reported.

b. Anthropologists should avoid even the appearance of engaging in clandestine research, by fully and freely disclosing the aims and sponsorship of all research.

c. Anthropologists should attempt to maintain such a level of integrity and rapport in the field, by their behaviour and example, that they will not jeopardise future research there. The responsibility is not to analyse and report so as to offend no one, but to conduct research in a way consistent with a commitment to honesty, open inquiry, clear communication of sponsorship and research aims, and concern for the welfare and privacy of research participants.

d. Anthropologists should not present as their own work, either in speaking or writing, materials directly taken from other sources.

e. When anthropologists participate in actions related to hiring, retention and advancement, they should ensure that no exclusionary practices be perpetuated against colleagues on the basis of sex, sexual preference, marital status, colour, social class, political convictions, religion, ethnic background, national origin, age or other non-academic attributes. (Exception is made for recognised programmes of affirmative action.) Nor should an otherwise qualified individual be excluded on the basis of physical disability. They should, furthermore, refrain from transmitting and resist the use of information irrelevant to professional performance in such personnel actions.

f. Anthropologists bear a responsibility to their discipline, colleagues, students and the public at large to work to maintain academic freedom and independence in their research, writing, and teaching.

g. Anthropologists should take steps to care for the unpublished materials in their possession and to make arrangements for the appropriate archival disposition of these materials.

4. Responsibility to Students

In relations with students, anthropologists should be candid, fair, nonexploitative and committed to their welfare and academic progress. Honesty is the essential quality of a good teacher, neutrality is not. Beyond honest teaching, anthropologists as teachers have ethical responsibilities in selection, instruction in ethics, career counselling, academic supervision, evaluation, compensation and placement.

a. Anthropologists should select students in such a way as to preclude discrimination on the basis of sex, ethnic group, social class, age and other categories of people indistinguishable by their intellectual potential.

b. Anthropologists should alert students to the ethical problems of research and discourage them from participating in projects employing questionable ethical standards. This should include providing them with information and discussions to protect them from unethical pressures and enticements emanating from possible sponsors, as well as helping to find acceptable alternatives.

c. Anthropologists should conscientiously supervise, encourage, and support students in their anthropological and other academic endeavours.

d. Anthropologists should inform students of what is expected from them in their course of study; be fair in the evaluation of their performance; and communicate evaluations to the students concerned.

e. Anthropologists should realistically counsel students regarding career opportunities.

f. Anthropologists should acknowledge in print the student assistance used in their own publications; give appropriate credit (including co-authorship) when student research is used in publication; encourage and assist in publication of worthy student papers; and compensate students justly for the use of their time, energy, and intelligence in research and teaching.

g. Anthropologists should energetically assist students in securing legitimate research support and the necessary permission to pursue research.

h. Anthropologists should energetically assist students in securing professional employment upon completion of their studies.

5. Responsibility to Sponsors, Funding Agencies, and Employers

In their relations with sponsors, funding agencies, and employers, anthropologists should be honest about their qualifications, capabilities, and aims. They thus face the obligation, prior to entering any commitment for research, to reflect sincerely upon the purposes of their sponsors in terms of their past behaviour. Anthropologists should be especially careful not to promise or imply acceptance of conditions contrary to their professional ethics or competing commitments. This requires that they require of sponsors full disclosure of the sources of funds, personnel, aims of the institution and the research project, and disposition of research results. Anthropologists must retain the right to make all ethical decisions in their work. Agreements with sponsors regarding research, results or reports should be based on these principles of professional responsibility and ethical conduct.

6. Responsibilities to One’s Own Government and to Host Governments

In relation with their own and host governments, anthropologists should be honest and candid. They should demand assurance that they will not be required to compromise their professional responsibilities and ethics as a condition of their permission to pursue research. Specifically, no secret research, secret reports, or secret debriefings of any kind should be agreed or given. If these matters are clearly understood in advance, serious complications and misunderstandings can generally be avoided.


A major theme underlying the Association’s adoption of these principles is the idea that anthropologists who are knowledgeable about, concerned with, and sensitive to issues of ethics and responsibility are the best safeguard against abuses of our science. These principles emphasise both final decisions and the process by which they are made. Ethical decisions are made by people who are educated about ethical issues and principles, carefully consider alternatives, exercise judgement, and accept responsibility for their choices. These principles are dedicated to aiding anthropologists in making ethical decisions.

In the final analysis, anthropological research is a human undertaking, dependent upon choices for which the individual bears ethical as well as scientific responsibility. That responsibility is a human, not superhuman one. To err is human, to forgive humane. These principles of professional responsibility and ethical conduct provide guidelines which can minimise the occasions upon which there is a need to forgive. When anthropologists, by their actions, jeopardise research participants, professional colleagues, students or others, or if they otherwise betray their professional commitments, their colleagues may legitimately inquire into the propriety of those actions. The annual AGM of the Association provides the obvious forum for discussion of ethical issues. Finally, the Association of Social Anthropologists of Aotearoa/New Zealand also positively affirms our commitment to act vigorously in defence and support of anthropologists who come under pressure to act in ways that transgress these principles of professional responsibility and ethical conduct.