ICC/ESOMAR International Code

ICC (the International Chamber of Commerce) is the world’s largest business organization with a network of over 6.5 million members in more than 130 countries.

ESOMAR is the global voice of the data, research and insights community, speaking on behalf of over 4900 individual professionals and 500 companies who provide or commission data analytics and research in more than 130 countries, all of whom agree to uphold the ICC/ESOMAR International Code.


Throughout its history market, opinion and social research has delivered information and insights about people’s behaviour, needs and attitudes to inform decision making by providers of goods and services, governments, individuals and society at large. In doing so researchers relied primarily on data collected through direct interaction with and observation of participating individuals, while placing a strong focus on safeguarding their privacy. This focus has been at the core of our profession’s successful history of self-regulation.

The world is changing and it is imperative that we change with it.

Over about the last 20 years we have seen a digital revolution – dramatic increases in the ability to collect, store and process information, the global Internet, social media, mobile technology – that is radically changing the way people live and work.

As a result, research is being transformed with increasing reliance on data already available in digital form. The role of the researcher is evolving from interviewer to data curator, focusing more on organising and integrating data, much of which already exists. The research and insight function is extending beyond data collection and analysis to managing and synthesising data from a diverse range of sources, from focus groups and sample surveys to social media and large databases.

This revision of the ICC/ESOMAR Code takes account of the impact of these new technologies on the research profession. The inclusion of data analytics in the title recognises that the proliferation of data has resulted in an entirely new approach to research within our profession wherein researchers assemble and analyse large databases to uncover patterns in the data and deliver powerful new insights to clients. Data analytics can be used for other purposes, but when used for research, this Code applies.

One thing that has not changed is our reliance on the cooperation of the public and their confidence that research is carried out honestly and objectively without infringing their privacy or creating disadvantages for those whose data is used in research.

With increasing public concerns about the importance of individuals being able to control how their personal data is used and for what purpose comes a pressing need for clear ethical and professional guidance on how to handle that data responsibly. It is more important than ever before to maintain public confidence in research and to continue to demonstrate our recognition of the ethical, professional and social responsibilities that come with using people’s personal data.

ICC and ESOMAR are delighted to present this latest revision of the Code, one that we believe will continue to promote high standards of ethical behaviour and reinforce public confidence in research. We recommend use of this Code worldwide.

John Danilovich, Secretary General of ICC
Finn Raben, Director General of ESOMAR


ESOMAR published the first Code of Marketing and Social Research Practice in 1948. In subsequent years, a number of national bodies published their own codes.

In 1976, ESOMAR and ICC – who had a related international code stemming from their Global Marketing and Advertising Code of Conduct – agreed that it would be preferable to have a single international code. A joint ICC/ESOMAR Code was published the following year. This 1977 code was revised and updated in 1986, 1994 and, most recently, in 2007. More than 60 associations in over 50 countries have adopted or endorsed it.


This Code is designed to be a comprehensive framework for self-regulation for those engaged in market, opinion and social research and data analytics. It sets essential standards of ethical and professional conduct designed to maintain public confidence in research, while also requiring strict adherence to any relevant regional, national and local laws or regulations, and industry/professional codes of conduct that may set a higher standard. It ensures that researchers and analysts working with both traditional and new sources of data continue to meet their ethical, professional and legal responsibilities to the individuals whose data they use in research and to the clients and organisations they serve. It also is intended to safeguard the right of researchers to seek, receive and impart information as stated in Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This Code applies to all research worldwide. Acceptance and observance of the Code is mandatory for ESOMAR members and the members of other research associations that have adopted it.


This Code is to be applied in the spirit in which it was written as well as to the letter. It should be read in conjunction with other relevant ICC and ESOMAR codes, guidelines, principles, and framework interpretations intended to apply the Code in the context of specific research methods and applications. These and other similar documents are available at www.iccwbo.org and www.esomar.org.

Throughout this document the word “must” is used to identify mandatory requirements, that is, a principle or practice that researchers are obliged to follow. The word "should" is used when describing implementation and denotes a recommended practice.


For the purpose of this Code the following terms have this specific meaning:

Children means individuals for whom permission to participate in research must be obtained from a parent or responsible adult. Definitions of the age of a child vary substantially and are set by national laws and self-regulatory codes. In the absence of a national definition, a child is defined as being 12 and under and a “young person” as aged 13 to 17.

Client means any individual or organisation that requests, commissions or subscribes to all or any part of a research project.

Consent means freely given and informed indication of agreement by a person to the collection and processing of his/her personal data.

Data analytics means the process of examining data sets to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, trends, preferences and other useful information for research purposes.

Data subject means any individual whose personal data is used in research.

Harm means tangible and material harm (such as physical injury or financial loss), intangible or moral harm (such as damage to reputation or goodwill), or excessive intrusion into private life, including unsolicited personally-targeted marketing messages.

Non-research activity means taking direct action toward an individual whose personal data was collected or analysed with the intent to change the attitudes, opinions or actions of that individual.

Passive data collection means the collection of personal data by observing, measuring or recording an individual’s actions or behaviour.

Personal data (sometimes referred to as personally identifiable information or PII) means any information relating to a natural living person that can be used to identify an individual, for example by reference to direct identifiers (such as a name, specific geographic location, telephone number, picture, sound or video recording) or indirectly by reference to an individual’s physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social characteristics.

Primary data means data collected by a researcher from or about an individual for the purpose of research.

Privacy notice (sometimes referred to as privacy policy) means a published summary of an organisation’s privacy practices describing the ways an organisation gathers, uses, discloses and manages a data subject’s personal data.

Research which includes all forms of market, opinion and social research and data analytics, is the systematic gathering and interpretation of information about individuals and organisations. It uses the statistical and analytical methods and techniques of the applied social, behavioural and data sciences to generate insights and support decision-making by providers of goods and services, governments, non-profit organisations and the general public.

Researcher means any individual or organisation carrying out or acting as a consultant on research, including those working in client organisations and any subcontractors used.

Secondary data means data collected for another purpose and subsequently used in research.

Vulnerable people means individuals who may have limited capacity to make voluntary and informed decisions, including those with cognitive impairments or communication disabilities.

Fundamental principles

This Code is based upon three fundamental principles that have characterised market, opinion and social research throughout its history. They provide an interpretative background for the application of the substantive articles of the Code:

  1. When collecting personal data from data subjects for the purpose of research, researchers must be transparent about the information they plan to collect, the purpose for which it will be collected, with whom it might be shared and in what form.

  2. Researchers must ensure that personal data used in research is thoroughly protected from unauthorised access and not disclosed without the consent of the data subject.

  3. Researchers must always behave ethically and not do anything that might harm a data subject or damage the reputation of market, opinion and social research.


Responsibilities to data subjects

Article 1 Duty of care

Article 2 Children, young people and other vulnerable individuals

Article 3 Data minimization

Article 4 Primary data collection

Article 5 Use of secondary data

Article 6 Data protection and privacy

Responsibilities to clients

Article 7 Transparency

Responsibilities to the general public

Article 8 Publishing findings

Responsibilities to the research profession

Article 9 Professional responsibility

Article 10 Legal responsibility



About the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) is the world’s largest business organization with a network of over 6.5 million members in more than 130 countries. ICC works to promote international trade, responsible business conduct and a global approach to regulation through a unique mix of advocacy and standard setting activities – together with market-leading dispute resolution services. ICC members include many of the world’s largest companies, SMEs, business associations and local chambers of commerce.


ESOMAR is the global voice of the data, research and insights community, speaking on behalf of over 4900 individual professionals and 500 companies who provide or commission data analytics and research in more than 130 countries, all of whom agree to uphold the ICC/ESOMAR International Code.

As a global association, together with national and international research associations, we set and promote professional standards and self-regulation for our sector and encourage, advance and advocate the role and value of data analytics, market and opinion research in illuminating real issues and bringing about effective decision-making.