The Ethics of Social
Principles and Standards
Adopted by the IFSW General Meeting, Colombo, Sri Lanka,
July 6 -8, 1994
Ethical awareness is a necessary part of the professional
practice of any social worker. His or her ability to act ethically
is an essential aspect of the quality of the service offered
The purpose of IFSW's work on ethics is to promote ethical
debate and reflection in the member associations and among the
providers of social work in member countries.
The basis for the further development of IFSW:s work on ethics
is to be found in "Ethics of Social Work - Principles and
Standards" which consists of two documents, International
Declaration of Ethical Principles of Social Work, and
International Ethical Standards for Social Workers.
These documents present the basic ethical principles of the social
work profession, recommend procedure when the work presents ethical
dilemmas, and deal with the profession's and the individual social
worker's relation to clients, colleagues, and others in the field.
The documents are components in a continuing process of use,
review and revision.
2. International Declaration
of Ethical Principles of Social Work
The IFSW recognises the need for a declaration of ethical
principles for guidance in dealing with ethical problems in social
The purposes of the International Declaration of Ethical
- to formulate a set of basic principles for social work, which
can be adapted to cultural and social settings.
- to identify ethical problem areas in the practice of social
work (below referred to as 'problem areas'), and
- to provide guidance as to the choice of methods for dealing
with ethical issues/problems (below referred to as 'methods for
addressing ethical issues/problems').
The International Declaration of Ethical Principles assumes
that both member associations of the IFSW and their constituent
members adhere to the principles formulated therein. The IFSW
expects each member association to assist its members in identifying
and dealing with ethical issues/problems in the practice of their
Member associations of the IFSW and individual members of
these can report any member association to the Executive Committee
of the IFSW should it neglect to adhere to these principles.
National Associations who experience difficulties adopting these
principles should notify the Executive Committee of IFSW. The
Executive Committee may impose the stipulations and intentions
of the Declaration of Ethical Principles on an association which
neglects to comply. Should this not be sufficient the Executive
Committee can, as a following measure, suggest suspension or
exclusion of the association.
The International Declaration of Ethical Principles should
be made publicly known. This would enable clients, employers,
professionals from other disciplines, and the general public
to have expectations in accordance with the ethical foundations
of social work.
We acknowledge that a detailed set of ethical standards for
the member associations would be unrealistic due to legal, cultural
and governmental differences among the member countries.
Social workers serve the development of human beings through
adherence to the following basic principles:
2.2.1. Every human being has a unique value, which justifies
moral consideration for that person.
2.2.2. Each individual has the right to self-fulfilment to the
extent that it does not encroach upon the same right of others,
and has an obligation to contribute to the well-being of society.
2.2.3. Each society, regardless of its form, should function
to provide the maximum benefits for all of its members.
2.2.4. Social workers have a commitment to principles of social
2.2.5. Social workers have the responsibility to devote objective
and disciplined knowledge and skill to aid individuals, groups,
communities, and societies in their development and resolution
of personal-societal conflicts and their consequences.
2.2.6. Social workers are expected to provide the best possible
assistance to anybody seeking their help and advice, without
unfair discrimination on the basis of gender, age, disability,
colour, social class, race, religion, language, political beliefs,
or sexual orientation.
2.2.7. Social workers respect the basic human rights of individuals
and groups as expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and other international conventions derived from
2.2.8. Social workers pay regard to the principles of privacy,
confidentiality, and responsible use of information in their
professional work. Social workers respect justified confidentiality
even when their country's legislation is in conflict with this
2.2.9. Social workers are expected to work in full collaboration
with their clients, working for the best interests of the clients
but paying due regard to the interests of others involved. Clients
are encouraged to participate as much as possible, and should
be informed of the risks and likely benefits of proposed courses
2.2.10. Social workers generally expect clients to take responsibility,
in collaboration with them, for determining courses of action
affecting their lives. Compulsion which might be necessary to
solve one party's problems at the expense of the interests of
others involved should only take place after careful explicit
evaluation of the claims of the conflicting parties. Social workers
should minimise the use of legal compulsion.
2.2.11. Social work is inconsistent with direct or indirect support
of individuals, groups, political forces or power-structures
suppressing their fellow human beings by employing terrorism,
torture or similar brutal means.
2.2.12. Social workers make ethically justified decisions, and
stand by them, paying due regard to the IFSW International Declaration
of Ethical Principles, and to the International Ethical Standards
for Social Workers adopted by their national professional
2.3 Problem Areas
2.3.1. The problem areas raising ethical issues directly are
not necessarily universal due to cultural and governmental differences.
Each national association is encouraged to promote discussion
and clarification of important issues and problems particularly
relevant to its country. The following problem areas are, however,
1. when the loyalty of the social worker is in the middle
of conflicting interests
- between those of the social workers own and the clients
- between conflicting interests of individual clients and other
- between the conflicting interests of groups of clients
- between groups of clients and the rest of the population
- between systems/institution and groups of clients
- between system/institution/employer and social workers
- between different groups of professionals
2. the fact that the social worker functions both as a
helper and controller
The relation between these two opposite aspects of social work
demands a clarification based on an explicit choice of values
in order to avoid a mixing-up of motives or the lack of clarity
in motives, actions and consequences of actions. When social
workers are expected to play a role in the state control of citizens
they are obliged to clarify the ethical implications of this
role and to what extent this role is acceptable in relation to
the basic ethical principles of social work.
3. the duty of the social worker to protect the interests
of the client will easily come into conflict with demands for
efficiency and utility
This problem is becoming important with the introduction and
use of information technology within the fields of social work.
2.3.2. The principles declared in section 2.2 should always
be at the base of any consideration given or choice made by social
workers in dealing with issues/problems within these areas.
2.4. Methods For The Solution of Issues/Problems
2.4.1. The various national associations of social workers
are obliged to treat matters in such a way that ethical issues/problems
may be considered and tried to be solved in collective forums
within the organization. Such forums should enable the individual
social worker to discuss, analyse and consider ethical issues/problems
in collaboration with colleagues, other expert groups and/parties
affected by the matter under discussion. In addition such forums
should give the social worker opportunity to receive advice from
colleagues and others. Ethical analysis and discussion should
always seek to create possibilities and options.
2.4.2. The member associations are required to produce and/or
adapt ethical standards for the different fields of work, especially
for those fields where there are complicated ethical issues/problems
as well as areas where the ethical principles of social work
may come into conflict with the respective country's legal system
or the policy of the authorities.
2.4.3. When ethical foundations are laid down as guidelines for
actions within the practice of social work, it is the duty of
the associations to aid the individual social worker in analysing
and considering ethical issues/problems on the basis of:
- The basic principles of the Declaration (section 2.2)
- The ethical/moral and political context of the actions,
i.e. an analysis of the values and forces constituting the framing
conditions of the action.
- The motives of the action, i.e. to advocate a higher
level of consciousness of the aims and intentions the individual
social worker might have regarding a course of action.
- The nature of the action, i.e. help in providing an
analysis of the moral content of the action, e.g. the use of
compulsion as opposed to voluntary co-operation, guardianship
vs participation, etc.
- The consequences the action might have for different
groups, i.e. an analysis of the consequences of different ways
of action for all involved parties in both the short and long
2.4.4. The member associations are responsible for promoting
debate, education and research regarding ethical questions.
3. International Ethical
Standards for Social Workers
(This section is based on the "International Code of
Ethics for the Professional Social Worker" adopted by the
IFSW in 1976, but does not include ethical principles since these
are now contained in the new separate International Declaration
of Ethical Principles of Social Work in section 2.2 of the
Social work originates variously from humanitarian, religious
and democratic ideals and philosophies and has universal application
to meet human needs arising from personal-societal interactions
and to develop human potential. Professional social workers are
dedicated to service for the welfare and self-fulfilment of human
beings; to the development and disciplined use of validated knowledge
regarding human and societal behaviour; to the development of
resources to meet individual, group, national and international
needs and aspirations; and to the achievement of social justice.
On the basis of the International Declaration of Ethical Principles
of Social Work, the social worker is obliged to recognise
these standards of ethical conduct.
3.2. General Standards of Ethical Conduct
3.2.1. Seek to understand each individual client and the client
system, and the elements which affect behaviour and the service
3.2.2. Uphold and advance the values, knowledge and methodology
of the profession, refraining from any behaviour which damages
the functioning of the profession.
3.2.3. Recognise professional and personal limitations.
3.2.4. Encourage the utilisation of all relevant knowledge and
3.2.5. Apply relevant methods in the development and validation
3.2.6. Contribute professional expertise to the development of
policies and programs which improve the quality of life in society.
3.2.7. Identify and interpret social needs.
3.2.8. Identify and interpret the basis and nature of individual,
group, community, national, and international social problems.
3.2.9. Identify and interpret the work of the social work profession.
3.2.10. Clarify whether public statements are made or actions
performed on an individual basis or as representative of a professional
association, agency or organisation, or other group.
3.3 Social Work Standards Relative to Clients
3.3.1. Accept primary responsibility to identified clients,
but within limitations set by the ethical claims of others.
3.3.2. Maintain the client's right to a relationship of trust,
to privacy and confidentiality, and to responsible use of information.
The collection and sharing of information or data is related
to the professional service function with the client informed
as to its necessity and use. No information is released without
prior knowledge and informed consent of the client, except where
the client cannot be responsible or others may be seriously jeopardized.
A client has access to social work records concerning them.
3.3.3. Recognise and respect the individual goals, responsibilities,
and differences of clients. Within the scope of the agency and
the client's social milieu, the professional service shall assist
clients to take responsibility for personal actions and help
all clients with equal willingness. Where the professional service
cannot be provided under such conditions the clients shall be
so informed in such a way as to leave the clients free to act.
3.3.4. Help the client - individual, group, community, or society-
to achieve self-fulfilment and maximum potential within the limits
of the respective rights of others. The service shall be based
upon helping the client to understand and use the professional
relationship, in furtherance of the clients legitimate desires
3.4 Social Work Standards Relative to Agencies
3.4.1. Work and/or cooperate with those agencies and organizations
whose policies, procedures, and operations are directed toward
adequate service delivery and encouragement of professional practice
consistent with the ethical principles of the IFSW.
3.4.2. Responsibly execute the stated aims and functions of the
agency or organizations, contributing to the development of sound
policies, procedures, and practice in order to obtain the best
possible standards or practice.
3.4.3. Sustain ultimate responsibility to the client, initiating
desirable alterations of policies, procedures, and practice,
through appropriate agency and organization channels. If necessary
remedies are not achieved after channels have been exhausted,
initiate appropriate appeals to higher authorities or the wider
community of interest.
3.4.4. Ensure professional accountability to client and community
for efficiency and effectiveness through periodic review of the
process of service provision.
3.4.5. Use all possible ethical means to bring unethical practice
to an end when policies, procedures and practices are in direct
conflict with the ethical principles of social work.
3.5 Social Work Standards Relative to Colleagues
3.5.1. Acknowledge the education, training and performance
of social work colleagues and professionals from other disciplines,
extending all necessary cooperation that will enhance effective
3.5.2. Recognise differences of opinion and practice of social
work colleagues and other professionals, expressing criticism
through channels in a responsible manner.
3.5.3. Promote and share opportunities for knowledge, experience,
and ideas with all social work colleagues, professionals from
other disciplines and volunteers for the purpose of mutual improvement.
3.5.4. Bring any violations of professionals ethics and standards
to the attention of the appropriate bodies inside and outside
the profession, and ensure that relevant clients are properly
3.5.5. Defend colleagues against unjust actions.
3.6 Standards Relative to the Profession
3.6.1. Maintain the values, ethical principles, knowledge
and methodology of the profession and contribute to their clarification
3.6.2. Uphold the professional standards of practice and work
for their advancement.
3.6.3. Defend the profession against unjust criticism and work
to increase confidence in the necessity for professional practice.
3.6.4. Present constructive criticism of the profession, its
theories, methods and practices
3.6.5. Encourage new approaches and methodologies needed to meet
new and existing needs.