“Ethics” in the humanitarian document collection is closely associated with “professionalism” and “integrity”, and is most strongly related to “medical” ethics. In addition to “medical” ethics, humanitarian documents refer to a range of other types, including “business”, “research”, “media”, “work” ethics, as well as “humanitarian” ethics more generally. 

The most frequent technical terms associated with ethics in humanitarian documents refer to “review” and “approval” processes and “committees” that decide on and approve whether humanitarian interventions, medical practices and research are in line with “universal” or “global” ethical standards. 

A wide range of instruments are mentioned that contain or outline the nature and content of the ethics that guide humanitarian actors, such as “standards”, “codes”, “conduct”, “method”, “values”, “principles” and “spirit”.


  • An emerging area of humanitarian ethics is data ethics. The Centre for Humanitarian Data has identified a range of ethical concerns in data management, including: validity, bias and fairness, ossification, transparency and explainability, privacy and anonymity, ownership of data and insights. What are the ethical challenges in these areas and how can humanitarian practitioners overcome them?
  • Humanitarian workers are increasingly targets of attacks by parties to conflict and other hostile actors. What challenges does this create for humanitarian ethics and upholding the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, independence, and neutrality?
  • What role do and can local populations play in the ethical oversight of humanitarian action? 
  • The concept of ethics in humanitarian action is inseparable from the concept of humanitarianism itself. How are these concepts related? 
  • The “Black Lives Matter” movement of 2020 also generated important criticism of and introspection from many international organisations, who reflected on a deeply embedded Western orientation of the aid system and culture. One particular issue raised in these debates is the disparity in treatment of national and international staff, which may at times be underpinned by racism. To what extent do current ethical frameworks and values of humanitarian organisations cover their internal practices? How could these be improved?

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Please note: The overview on this page represents a first summary and exploratory analysis of the concept, proposed by the HE core team for discussion, on the basis of preliminary linguistic data. It is not the full concept entry which will be based on rigorous linguistic methodology and collaboration with humanitarian practitioners and experts.

Coming soon: Expanded concept explanations, visualisations and analysis for this and 17 other COVID-19 related concepts.

Ethics appears with varying frequency over time since 2005, with the biggest peaks in 2006, 2012, and 2013.

Ethics is most frequently mentioned in documents from Oceania, and least frequently in documents in South America.

Ethics is a concept that features frequently in documents from the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement. There is also a high proportion for Religious Entities, although low in absolute terms due to the small sub-corpus size.

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