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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 12

5. Ethical codes of practice


‘It has been suggested that the inclusion of spiritual and aesthetic resources in a coastal management programme may be seen as a luxury in many countries, which tend to give priority to the material side of things – tangible yields, products and consumption. However, since so many conflicts result from differences in the way a resource is valued, omission of the intangible aspects results in an incomplete picture. Moral and ethical statements and values already exist in the natural and social sciences, where they enrich the discourse’.

Gillian Cambers, 2001

An ethical dimension

Ethics may be defined as a system of moral principles concerning appropriate conduct for an individual or group; or as the study of moral standards and how they affect behaviour. At a workshop in Dominica in July 2001, the ethical dimension of environmental management was discussed (UNESCO, 2002). It was noted that both the social and the natural sciences contain many concepts that are value laden, e.g. as soon as a scientist has suggested a preference for a healthy ecosystem and proposed a strategy for conservation, she/he has introduced the element of value into the situation. The very concept of development contains many imbedded values such as advancement, improvement and progress. Concepts relating to conservation and stewardship often have a high moral tone. For instance, it was suggested in a 1998 workshop that natural areas and their biodiversity have an intrinsic value, so their conservation should be a matter of immediate moral concern. There is no need to refer to their other functions, such as their importance in the food chain, to justify their conservation (UNESCO, 2000a).

Conflict resolution concerns people and thus moral and ethical views must be included. Individuals constantly have to make the choice between undertaking a particular action and/or doing what is right. This depends on listening to one’s conscience, and the values there relate to family, cultural and religious backgrounds. In this respect the wise practice characteristics: locally responsive, and the freedom to exercise fundamental human rights are especially relevant.

While this particular workshop focused on conflict resolution and specific cases studies, the wider issue of how foreign aid could be used in an ethical manner for development purposes was a topic that surfaced on several occasions. The issue is immensely complex and also very casespecific.

For instance, the workshop participants had the opportunity to visit an abandoned aquaculture plant at Bairro Triunfo near Maputo. With the assistance of foreign aid, a shrimp aquaculture plant had been developed and run by the government. After five years, when the project funding was finished, the aquaculture plant was sold by tender to a private developer, who after running two shrimp production cycles, abandoned the enterprise, although he still owns the site. One possible reason for the failure of this project relates to the size of the plant, in that it was too large to be merely a pilot project and too small to be profitable for commercial shrimp production, even with good management. Now the site lies abandoned, and the funds, while not wasted since undoubtedly training and other activities were also included, might have been put to better use.

Other examples of what appeared to be illconceived projects were also discussed. However, the workshop participants were drawn in the main from universities, non-governmental and governmental organizations, and the private sector; the donor community was not represented.

The issue of aid dependency was also raised. In some countries there is too much reliance on aid, almost to the extent of reducing the need for the collection of national taxes. This may reduce any incentive to create productive activities and investments, and distort local markets. This loss of self-reliance is a very serious issue with many political implications. The dependency of funding on national per capita income levels was also raised during the workshop. A proposal was put forward that there was a need for ethical codes of practice for donors, and for investors.

Ethical codes of practice

Ethical codes of practice concern behavioural principles, which incorporate a moral dimension for a specific group of people or a specific domain.

Codes of conduct in Sodwana Bay and St. Lucia, Maputaland, South Africa, 2001 

There are several models and forms: codes, standards, charters, principles, declarations, policies, and guidelines, among others. They are usually prepared by organizations (often non-governmental) when there is no law or no adequate national or international laws existing to guide people in making particular decisions. They articulate a set of values based on notions of achieving the highest possible good.

In preparing a code of ethics, the following factors need to be taken into consideration (UNESCO, 2002):

The preparation of a code of ethics for a particular domain or group of people is a very time consuming process, involving extensive consultation and deliberation often over a period of several years. Such codes of practice have been drawn up by and for specific groups, e.g. landscape architects (The International Federation of Landscape Architects Code of Ethics, 2000), dealers in cultural property (International Code of Ethics for Dealers in Cultural Property, UNESCO 1999b), and for specific domains, e.g. tourism (Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, 1999).

Preliminary concepts for an ethical code of practice for donors

The preliminary concepts for an ethical code of practice for donors proposed at this workshop were as follows:

   Aid-recipient countries need to prepare and regularly update priorities for funding. These priorities should be based on a consensus developed together with civil society.

The complaint is sometimes voiced that projects are imposed on countries by outside agencies and as such do not necessarily respond to what a country perceives as its immediate and most pressing needs. This recommendation puts the onus firmly on aid-recipient countries to be proactive and to prepare their own list of areas where assistance is needed (some countries may require help in preparing such priority lists). This list should include short-, medium- and long-term needs and projects. Furthermore, such lists need to be updated regularly, at least annually. Developing such priority listings together with civil society will be difficult to implement, for even in those countries where funding priorities are prepared, civil society is not usually a part of the process. Particularly in newer democracies and mono-party states, any proposal by donors to have civil society participating in the determination of funding priorities may be viewed as interference in internal affairs.

   National governments and the private sector (in both donor and recipient countries) need to collaborate together and with international institutions in the funding of projects.

External assistance is not just at the level of governments and international institutions; the private sector has a very important role to play in both donor and recipient countries. However, there is often a lack of information exchange between the private sector and the donor community.

   There needs to be direct communication between the donors and the benefiting communities.

Often the officials, who negotiate funding for a particular project, are not the direct recipients or even the persons executing the project. In order to ensure successful projects it is necessary to have all parties involved together in the negotiating process. The concern was voiced that in some cases, smaller NGOs cannot approach international organizations directly, but have to negotiate through their governments. The more separate stages involved in the negotiation, the more room for misinterpretation, and often the end-result is that the grassroots communities have no voice, nor choice. Furthermore, the donor needs to know that the intended recipients have indeed benefited and not some other group.

   There is a need for flexibility in project scheduling and spending regimes.

Rigid project schedules, which allow no room for negotiated changes or unforeseen events, are one of the main reasons for failed projects. Flexibility in executing the project activities, which may include changes in the schedule of financial payments, is critical for a successful project.

   Transparency throughout the entire process is essential, from the identification of priorities and the determination of project activities to financial auditing.

The problems of bureaucracy and corruption exist throughout the world. The only way to try and reduce these problems, at all levels within the recipient and donor countries, is to provide for full and clear transparency in the entire process. Concise and open reporting can assist in the transparency process.

   Project assessment and evaluation is critical.

Assessment and evaluation should be mandatory for all projects, large and small. Assessment and evaluation should have the joint aim of examining the execution of the project activities and implementing future activities in an improved manner. Such assessments should include persons directly involved in the project together with knowledgeable outside persons. (Project assessment procedures are discussed in Chapter 4.)

   Countries, especially small islands with limited national and institutional capacity, should feel free to chose to participate in those projects from which they will receive most benefit, without being penalized or risk being cut off from aid from a particular donor in the future.

Many countries, small islands in particular, do not have the confidence to refuse or defer certain projects that they do not see as being in their immediate interest. The fear is that if they do this they will not be eligible for future assistance. There may also be conflicts between political and technical levels of government regarding certain projects. The first concept discussed in this list – aid-recipient countries to prepare, in an open, consultative manner, a list of priorities for funding – may also help in solving such problems.

   The substance of donor-funded projects should be determined prior to the actual funding negotiations.

It is most important to start considering the content of an externally funded project, before the funding is negotiated. Again, the starting point should be a country’s list of prioritized needs and projects. Projects have a limited time span, thus funding should be at an appropriate level, so that once the project finishes, the recipient country is able to continue at least some of the activities on its own.

Concluding comments

These ideas proposed for an ethical code of practice for donors are merely first thoughts put together by a group of experienced professionals working in the field of integrated coastal management. Extensive consultation with the aidgiving and aid-receiving groups over the coming months and years is needed in order to take these preliminary ideas further. For ultimately, if external aid is to provide for the common good of humanity, then ethical concepts must be considered.


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