About WHO

WHO Ethics


WHO would like to stress to all contractors and collaborators that WHO has zero tolerance towards sexual exploitation and abuse.

Each contractor and collaborator is expected to take all appropriate measures to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation or abuse of anyone by its employees or any other persons engaged by the contractor or collaborator to perform any services under the agreement with WHO. The WHO Policy on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Prevention and Response is publicly available. Each contractor and collaborator is expected to refrain from, and to take all reasonable and appropriate measures to prohibit its employees and other persons engaged by it from engaging in any sexual exploitation or abuse as described in the Policy. Each contractor and collaborator is expected to promptly report to WHO and respond to, in accordance with the terms of the Policy, any actual or suspected violations of the Policy of which the contractor or collaborator becomes aware. In case of violation of the Policy, WHO may decide to:

  • terminate any contract with the contractor or collaborator immediately upon written notice to the contractor or collaborator, without any liability for termination charges or any other liability of any kind; and/or
  • exclude the contractor or collaborator from participating in any ongoing or future tenders and/or entering into any future contractual or collaborative relationships with WHO.

WHO shall be entitled to report any violation of the above mentioned provisions to WHO’s governing bodies and other UN agencies.

On this page:

Ethical principles

As a specialized agency of the UN system, WHO is firmly committed to the following ethical principles:

  • Integrity: To behave in accordance with ethical principles, and act in good faith, intellectual honesty and fairness.
  • Accountability: To take responsibility for one’s actions, decisions and their consequences.
  • Independence and impartiality: To conduct oneself with the interests of WHO only in view and under the sole authority of the Director-General, and to ensure that personal views and convictions do not compromise ethical principles, official duties or the interests of WHO.
  • Respect: To respect the dignity, worth, equality, diversity and privacy of all persons.
  • Professional Commitment: To demonstrate a high level of professionalism and loyalty to the Organization, its mandate and objectives.

Code of ethics and professional conduct (full version):

English [pdf 472kb]

Code of ethics and professional conduct (abridged):

Arabic [pdf 106kb] | English [pdf 131kb] | French [pdf 134kb] | Russian [pdf 193kb]

Whistleblowing and protection against retaliation

The WHO policy on Whistleblowing and protection against retaliation applies to all those (staff or others) who report, in good faith, suspected wrongdoing of corporate significance to WHO and may be subject to retaliatory action as a result.

Wrongdoing that implies a significant risk to WHO includes, but is not limited to:

  • fraud
  • corruption
  • waste of resources
  • sabotage
  • substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
  • sexual exploitation and abuse.

WHO’s whistleblowing policy is rooted in the following underlying approach:

  • staff members have an obligation to report wrongdoing;
  • the Organization has a duty to protect whistleblowers against retaliation;
  • the Organization has a duty to address wrongdoing by instituting remedies and taking disciplinary action as appropriate; and
  • retaliation constitutes misconduct.

Non-staff members are also encouraged to report any suspicious wrongdoing to WHO. The identity of a whistleblower that comes forward for advice regarding the reporting of suspected wrongdoing is protected. Confidentiality will only be waived with their express consent. By providing protection to staff and non-staff members, WHO is able to learn about and respond to wrongdoing. This enhances our accountability and supports the integrity of WHO’s operations and programmes.

Download WHO policy on Whistleblowing and protection against retaliation:

Arabic [pdf 280kb] | Chinese [pdf 507kb] | English [pdf 228kb] | French [pdf 216kb] | Russian [pdf 379kb] | Spanish [pdf 234kb]

Integrity Hotline

The Integrity hotline provides a safe and independent mechanism to report any concerns about issues involving WHO. It is managed by a professional company selected competitively by WHO. The integrity hotline is contractually bound not to share an individual’s personal details with WHO without permission from that individual, and accepts anonymous reports.

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Prevention and Response

This is a summary of the provisions of WHO policy on preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse.

  • WHO prohibits sexual exploitation and abuse and considers such acts as serious misconduct, which may constitute grounds for disciplinary sanctions, including summary dismissal, and criminal proceedings.
  • WHO prohibits any acts of sexual abuse or sexual assault, and forbids the exchange of money, employment, goods, assistance or services for sex, including sexual favours or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behaviour towards the beneficiary populations in the countries WHO serves.
  • WHO strictly forbids sexual activity with children (persons under the age of 18), regardless of the local age of consent or majority. Mistaken belief regarding the age of a child is not a defense.
  • Staff who deliver professional health services directly to beneficiaries have a duty not only to abstain from having sexual relationships with the people who receive their services, but also to report any instance where they may suspect or detect signs of sexual exploitation and abuse by virtue of the nature of their function.
  • Any suspicion of sexual exploitation and abuse must be reported immediately to WHO, for example through the Integrity hotline, or through the Office of Compliance, Risk Management and Ethics (CRE) at ethicsoffice@who.int.
  • WHO is committed to informing and educating partners about the Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Prevention and Response Policy and holding them to UN and WHO standards.
  • The issue of sexual exploitation and abuse will systematically be integrated into information campaigns, trainings and meetings with beneficiary populations vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse.

This policy provides mechanisms to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse from happening from the outset by defining the conduct expected from WHO staff and collaborators, and to react and sanction it at any point. An act of sexual exploitation and/or abuse is serious misconduct and must be immediately reported to WHO whether it involves directly a WHO staff member or collaborator, another staff member of a UN agency or has been witnessed or otherwise brought to the attention of a WHO staff member, collaborator or UN partner.

Code of Conduct for responsible Research

Research in WHO is a fundamental instrument for the advancement and attainment of health, and the Organization is committed to the highest standards of scientific quality and ethical integrity. The Code of Conduct for responsible Research provides standards of good practice to guide individuals working on all research associated with WHO, including non-clinical research, in line with the principles of integrity, accountability, independence/impartiality, respect and professional commitment described in WHO’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

Applicable to all staff members involved in research, as well as to WHO collaborators in spirit and principles, the Code of Conduct for responsible Research (the Code) articulates WHO’s responsibility to adhere to its research standards, and to:

  • Ensure that partner institutions have Codes of Conduct in place that uphold principles in line with the Code;
  • Seek advice and assistance as appropriate from normal management channels, the Office of Compliance, Risk Management and Ethics (CRE), the Ethics Review Committee (ERC), and or the Office of the Legal Counsel (LEG) as applicable;
  • Report any suspicions of non adherence to the Code to supervisors for action, or to the Integrity hotline as applicable; and
  • Take action to address suspicions of wrongdoing including with collaborators and partner institutions, such as terminating contractual engagements, or withdrawing from publication projects.

Declarations of Interests

Risks of conflicts of interest can generally be found at 2, non-mutually exclusive, levels: organizational and personal. Perception is key – it is imperative to understand that different people look at things in different ways. Thus, it is not enough for staff to feel they act well: staff must also be seen as acting well, as displaying good judgement and upholding the ethical principles of WHO.

Generally speaking, a conflict of interest arises when a secondary interest interferes with the primary interest of WHO and its staff. The scope of conflict of interest goes beyond financial interest.

Declarations of Interest for staff

WHO has strict ethical principles of integrity, independence and impartiality. Identified WHO staff members are required to disclose on an annual basis the interests that may conflict with their functions as international civil servant.

Declarations of Interest for experts

Each year, scientists and other technical experts contribute to the solution of global health problems by participating in expert committees, advisory groups, conferences, study and scientific groups, and other activities of WHO. To be effective, the work of WHO and the contributions of its experts must be, actually and ostensibly, objective and independent.

WHO has a robust process to protect the integrity of WHO in its normative work as well as to protect the integrity of individual experts the Organization collaborates with. WHO requires that experts serving in an advisory role disclose any circumstances that could give rise to actual or ostensible conflict of interest.




Promoting compliance, risk management and ethics

The Office of Compliance, Risk Management and Ethics (CRE) promotes transparency and management of corporate-level risk, within the framework of WHO’s ethical principles. To this end, CRE promotes the practice of the ethical principles derived from the international civil service standards of conduct for all WHO staff and associated personnel. CRE provides clear and action-oriented advice in a secure and confidential environment where individuals can freely consult on ethical issues. The aim is to help individuals in performing their duties professionally and fairly, and to manage their personal affairs in a way that does not interfere with their official responsibilities.

The Office of Compliance, Risk Management and Ethics (CRE) offers the following services:

  • Confidential ethics advice
  • Promotion of ethics awareness and education
  • Promotion of ethics standards
  • Protection of staff from retaliation for reporting wrongdoing
  • Administration of declarations of interest for staff and external experts
  • Authorization of outside activities

Code of ethics and professional conduct

Contact WHO's integrity hotline

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Prevention and Response

Code of Conduct for responsible Research