Briefing Paper on Remuneration to Subject Populations and Individuals - Participate & Advocate
Skip to content
Login Publications About AAA Contact Join Donate Shop FAQs
Note with flowers Mobile
Note with flowers Desktop

In This Section

Briefing Paper on Remuneration to Subject Populations and Individuals

From Our Sponsors

In This Section

Ethics Committee Briefing Paper on Remuneration to Subject Populations and Individuals

Draft for Comments

Briefing Paper on Remuneration to
Subject Populations and Individuals

AAA Committee on Ethics
Prepared by Gail E. Wagner

Preface: In November 2000, the Committee on Ethics (COE) was asked to draft guidelines and other materials that address the level and kind of remuneration to subject populations and individuals that is both appropriate and fair. Members of the COE have taken this charge to relate to wages for labor (e.g., driving a vehicle), remuneration for interviews or demonstrations, and remuneration for cultural knowledge (frequently called Intellectual Property Rights [IPR],  Traditional Knowledge [TK], or by preference of the international documents, heritage).

Official Sources of Guidelines: The Committee on Ethics recognizes that while appropriate and fair wages and remuneration must be culturally situated, ethical codes and guidelines of professional and scientific organizations touch on this subject. These include but are not limited to the AAA Code of Ethics and the International Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics and Guidelines and Additionally, a number of international organizations, declarations, studies, and covenants specifically deal with wages, remuneration, ownership, and who should decide what is appropriate and fair. These include the International Labour Office of the United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (1993, Annex in 1995), United Nations Study on the Protection of the Cultural and Intellectual Property of Indigenous Peoples (1993), and International Covenant on the Rights of Indigenous Nations (1994). The COE recommends that anthropologists and anthropology students who conduct research resulting in the need to remunerate subject populations or individuals should become familiar with all applicable guidelines and codes of ethics, as well as all applicable international organizations, declarations, and covenants.

Background Information on Remuneration: The AAA Code of Ethics provides general guidance regarding the issue of remuneration. Section III (Research) says that researchers should be alert to proper demands of good citizenship or host-guest relations. In III.A.1 it advises the researcher to consult actively with the affected individuals or group(s), with the goal of establishing a working relationship that can be beneficial to all parties involved. It further addresses compensation under III.A.6, when it recognizes anthropologists debt to the societies in which they work and their obligation to reciprocate with people studied in appropriate ways.

In some cases, appropriate and fair ways to reciprocate or compensate the people studied are relatively clear. However, in societies where knowledge or ownership is communal, widespread, or not a commodity, or knowledge or labor are not appropriately compensated by money, anthropologists must seek individual solutions. Like the informed consent process (III.A.4), adequate and fair compensation may be a dynamic and continuous process. A number of international declarations and covenants that deal with indigenous rights may be helpful in formulating what sort of remuneration and to whom is both appropriate and fair. These will be outlined in the following section.

International Organizations and Documents Dealing with Remuneration: The International Labour Office of the United Nations specializes in social and labor questions and promotes the rights of working people, including indigenous workers. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) ( in Article 23 states that (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work, and (3) ?Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration . . . .  Article 18 states that indigenous peoples enjoy fully all rights established under international labour law and national labour legislation. Furthermore, they should not be subjected to any discriminatory conditions of labour, employment or salary. Article 27 states that (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

The Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (1993) addresses rights of indigenous people relating to indigenous lands and natural resources (Part VI); protection of cultural and intellectual property (Part III); and preservation of cultural and ethnic procedures for handling issues such as remuneration (Part VII). Basically, it places the identification of what is fair and appropriate remuneration in the hands of the population that is studied.

The International Covenant on the Rights of Indigenous Nations (1994) addresses the cultural rights of nations (Article II, Part III), the right to land, territories and place (Part VI), to intellectual property (Part VI, Para. 27), and to determine the responsibilities of individuals to its communities? (Part VII, Para. 32).

In a 1995 United Nations Annex on Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of the Heritage of Indigenous People, indigenous people are (3) recognized as primary guardians and interpreters of their culture? Words such as heritage, IPR, and researchers are defined. Principle 5 places ownership and custody of heritage under the rules and practices of each people. Principle 8 recognizes indigenous control over all research conducted within their territories, or which uses their people as subjects of study? Principle 10 states that agreements for the recording, study, use or display of indigenous peoples must ensure that the people concerned continue to be the primary beneficiaries of commercial applications.

Summary: The question of what is appropriate and fair remuneration to subject populations and individuals may arise in relation to wages for labor, remuneration for interviews or demonstrations, or remuneration for heritage (intellectual property or traditional knowledge). The first step is to identify who it is appropriate to remunerate. The anthropologist must keep in mind that knowledge or ownership may be communal, that not all aspects of culture should be treated like commerce, and that money may not be an appropriate form of remuneration. The international documents are clear that all people should receive equal pay for equal work. Likewise, they are clear about placing the ownership of heritage and the appropriate ways to handle issues such as remuneration in the hands of the people being studied. Appropriate and fair remuneration is culturally situated, and can be seen as a process that should be individually negotiated by each anthropologist under the guidance of those people with whom the anthropologist works.

You Might Also Like