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Building peace in the minds of men and women

Ethics Office


About the Ethics Office

On 9 October 2009, UNESCO established an Ethics Office to assist and provide advice to the Organization and its personnel on ethics and standards of conduct and thus to promote an ethical organizational culture based on UNESCO’s core values of integrity, professionalism and respect for diversity.

The Ethics Office:

  • is independent from all UNESCO sectors and central services and reports directly to the Director-General;
  • is impartial in carrying out its functions;
  • is bound by strict confidentiality;
  • serves all UNESCO employees, regardless of their grade, duty station or contractual status.

The Ethics Office is located in UNESCO Headquarters in Paris and is headed by an Ethics Advisor, appointed for a limited, and non-renewable, term.

What does the Ethics Office do?

The Ethics Office carries out its work through six main pillars:

(1) ethics advice, (2) informal report of harassment, (3) protection against retaliation, (4) financial disclosure (5) protection from sexual expoitation and abuse and (6) outreach.

To learn more about each pillar, click on the respective boxes below.

Ethics advice Informal report Protection against retaliation Financial disclosure PSEA


Furthermore, the Ethics Office is mandated to draft and review UNESCO policies to ensure that these engender the Organization’s core ethical values.

Finally, the Ethics Office is the PSEA (Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse) focal point at UNESCO.

Ethics Advice

The Ethics Office is mandated to provide confidential advice and guidance on ethics related matters to all UNESCO employees, regardless of their duty station, grade or contractual status. Any employee may contact the Ethics Office at any time, to seek assistance in dealing with any ethics-related issue.

Through this confidential service, employees are able to share with the Ethics Office their issues and/or concerns, identify the rules and policies applicable to a given situation, examine their options and understand possible consequences. Employees are provided guidance to assist them in identifying, mitigating and managing ethical issues and making value-based, ethical decisions that serve the best interests of the Organization.

Ethics advice may be provided for the following situations:

  • Workplace conflict;
  • Employment related concerns;
  • Conflicts of interest (including but not limited to outside activities, honours, decorations, gifts, favours, pre and post-employment);
  • Standards of conduct.

The UNESCO Ethics Office is ready to help offices to build environments in which employees interact with each other in ways that show the greatest mutual respect. Any UNESCO employee can contact the Ethics Office for confidential advice.


Gifts Policy and Gifts and Favours Registry

UNESCO, as an International Organization is, and shall continue to be held to a high standard of integrity and independence by its Member States and the public opinion, hence it needs to be a model of transparency.

To this end, in 2019, UNESCO issued its Gifts and Favours Policy, formalizing the Ethics Office’s role in managing the new online Gifts and Favours Registry (‘GF Registry’) and advising employees on all aspects related to the policy.

As a matter of principle, UNESCO employees shall not accept any honour, decoration, favour, gift or remuneration in their professional capacity from any government or from any other source external to the Organization. Nonetheless, should refusal cause embarrassment to the Organization, UNESCO employees may accept but are requested to promptly register the gift or favour in the GF Registry. The submission is sent through the system to the supervisor for endorsement and comments before it is submitted to the Ethics Office for validation and advice on the appropriate course of action.

There are also some strict prohibitions, particularly when it comes to vendors.


Informal report

Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it polical?" Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but we must take it because our conscience tells us that it is right. - Martin Luther King Jr

The Ethics Office is mandated to receive informal reports of harassment, discrimination and abuse of authority. This process does not necessarily warrant further action other than guidance on how to handle the situation and on available resources and procedures.

Any information disclosed to the Ethics Office through an informal report will be dealt with strict confidentiality and will not be released to anyone within UNESCO or externally without the prior consent of the person approaching the Ethics Office. 

Informal reports can be filed for the following subjects:

  • Moral harassment
  • Sexual harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Abuse of authority

The Ethics Office can provide advice as to whether a given situation can be dealt with informally or whether it is advisable to file a formal complaint with the UNESCO Internal Oversight Service (IOS).

 UNESCO employees have not only the right but also the duty to report any misconduct or breach of UNESCO’s official rules and regulations, including harassment.


United against harassment


Protection against retaliation


The Ethics Office is responsible for the protection of UNESCO employees against retaliation through its Whistleblower protection policy.  

The policy aims at promoting a speak up culture and ensuring that the Organization functions in an open and transparent manner by offering protection for those who report misconduct, provide information in good faith on alleged wrongdoing, or cooperate with a duly authorized audit, investigation or enquiry. The above are considered “protected activities”. In order to receive protection, the individual must act in good faith which implies a reasonable belief that the activity reported did, in fact, occur.

“Retaliation” means any direct or indirect detrimental action recommended, threatened or taken because an individual engaged in a protected activity under the Whistleblower protection policy.

Under the Whistleblower protection policy, the Ethics Office is mandated with :

  1. Receiving complaints of retaliation or threats of retaliation;
  2. Keeping a confidential record of all complaints received;
  3. Conducting a preliminary review of the complaint to determine if:
  • The complainant engaged in a protected activity;
  • The action alleged to be retaliatory or threat of retaliation did take place;
  • There is a prima facie case that the protected activity was a contributing factor in causing the alleged retaliation or threat of retaliation.

The UNESCO Financial Disclosure Programme (FDP)

The Ethics Office is responsible for administering UNESCO’s Declaration of Interest and Financial Disclosure Programme (FDP).

The primary purpose of the FDP is to identify, mitigate and manage conflicts of interest (COI) arising from employees’ financial holdings, private affiliations and/or outside activities while striking the right balance between their private interests and their obligations towards the Organization in exercising due diligence. Avoiding conflicts of interest is the duty of all UNESCO employees and is in the best interest of the Organization in order to preserve the individuals’ as well as UNESCO’s integrity.

The FDP applies to all:

  1. Fixed-term employees at the P-5 level or above;
  2. Employees of the Ethics Office;
  3. Employees whose principal duties include the procurement of goods and services for UNESCO and/or whose principal duties relate to investment of UNESCO assets.

The aforementioned employees are required to complete an electronic questionnaire within the deadline set by the Ethics Office. All questionnaires are confidentially reviewed by the Ethics Office for completeness of information and analyzed for perceived, actual or potential conflicts of interest.

If a conflict of interest is identified, the Ethics Office makes proposals to the employee to resolve the conflict of interest in favour of the interests of the Organization. Within an allocated timeframe, the employee shall inform the Ethics Office, in writing, of the action taken to resolve the conflict of interest.

The Ethics Office annualy reports to DG with respect to FDP's results.


Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA)

The PSEA Policy reflects UNESCO's zero tolerance towards SEA and defines the principles and mechanisms by which UNESCO employees will be held accountable to uphold the Organization’s commitment to protect and uphold the dignity of vulnerable people. The policy is fully aligned with the Organization’s core values and international commitments to prevent and address instances of sexual exploitation and abuse. It includes standard operating procedures for submission and receipt of complaints, reporting, investigation and victim assistance. While the Ethics Office acts as UNESCO PSEA focal point at HQ, local focal points have been nominated in UNESCO field offices and institutes and have been provided with specific terms of reference.


Victims and other individuals who are aware of an incident of SEA are encouraged to report to the Investigation Office. PSEA focal points in the respective field office or the Ethics Office are also available for further assistance.



Outreach and training is key in building a culture of ethics and ensuring ethical decision making within UNESCO.

From its inception, the Ethics Office has considered that raising ethical awareness and engaging in a dialogue are essential to attain this objective. This is the reason why it has developed and implemented specific training and workshops aimed at enabling employees at all levels to understand their rights and obligations and to make decisions in an ethical manner.

The Ethics training and the Anti-harassment workshop are mandatory and delivered in person to all employees of UNESCO, regardless of their contractual status, worldwide. The Ethics Office also developed an online Ethics training.

In addition, since the organizational ethical culture also depends on its leadership's visible adherence to ethical values and behavior, the Ethics Office also provides Ethical Leadership Training. 

The Ethics Office also conducts ethics induction briefings with senior leaders, on a one-to-one basis, or during meetings e.g. of all Directors/Heads of Field Offices at headquarters, equally with the aim of fostering the Organization's culture of ethics, integrity and accountability and managers’ roles in this respect.