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Date updated: 6/09/2023

The City of London Corporation develops its collections held at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) through acquisition by purchase, gift, deposit or bequest, or very occasionally, by borrowing items for exhibition. The organisation sets the highest ethical standards for acquisitions and loans, and behaves honestly and responsibly by exercising due diligence to ensure full knowledge of provenance.

The Museums Association (MA) Code of Ethics (updated 2015) defines due diligence as ensuring that all reasonable measures are taken to establish the facts of a case before deciding a course of action, particularly in identifying the source and history of an item offered for acquisition or use before acquiring it, or in understanding the full background of a sponsor, lender or funder.

The Code sets out three key ethical principles with 25 supporting actions, of which the most importance in respect of due diligence are:

  • Conduct due diligence to verify the ownership of any item prior to purchase or loan, and that the current holder is legitimately able to transfer title or to lend. Apply the same strict criteria to gifts and bequests.
  • Reject any item for purchase, loan or donation if there is any suspicion that it was wrongfully taken during a time of conflict, stolen, illicitly exported or illicitly traded, unless explicitly allowed by treaties or other agreements, or where the museum is co-operating with attempts to establish the identity of the rightful owner(s) of an item.

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) Code of Professional Ethics (revised 2004, under review 2021-2) has eight principles, supported by guidelines for desirable professional practice which the most relevant to due diligence are:

  • No object or specimen should be acquired by purchase, gift, loan, bequest, or exchange unless the acquiring museum is satisfied that a valid title is held. Evidence of lawful ownership in a country is not necessarily valid title.
  • Every effort must be made before acquisition to ensure that any object or specimen offered for purchase, gift, loan, bequest, or exchange has not been illegally obtained in, or exported from its country of origin or any intermediate country in which it might have been owned legally (including the museum’s own country). Due diligence in this regard should establish the full history of the item since discovery or production.

The International Council on Archives (ICA) Code of Ethics (adopted 1996) states that:

  • Archives should be aware that acquiring documents of dubious origin, however interesting, could encourage an illegal commerce. They should cooperate with other archivists and law enforcement agencies engaged in apprehending and prosecuting persons suspected of theft of archival records.

The Archives and Records Association UK and Ireland (ARA) Code of Ethics (updated 2020) states that:

  • Members should never accept documents which they have significant reason to believe have been acquired through illegal or unethical means. Members should do what is in their power to verify the origin of documents and should accurately record information relating to the origin of documents as an aid to accountability and comply with the relevant national and international laws.

In the UK Accredited archive services must have procedures in place to ensure that key collections information, including provenance, is recorded and maintained to acceptable standards. LMA is an Accredited Archive Service.

LMA will not acquire or borrow any item unless satisfied that the donor, depositor, lender or vendor has full title and that they or any agent acting for them has full legal authority to enter into a gift, deposit or loan agreement, or sales transaction.

LMA will adhere to the 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention (on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property), rejecting items if there is any suspicion that, since 1970, they may have been stolen, illegally excavated or removed from a monument, site or wreck contrary to local law or otherwise acquired in or exported from their country of origin (including the United Kingdom), or any intermediate country, in violation of that country’s laws or any national or international treaties, unless the department is able to obtain permission from authorities with the requisite jurisdiction in the country of origin. Particular attention will also be paid to object provenance between 1933 and 1945, and on observance of all relevant national and international regulations governing the import and export of cultural property, and the control of trade in endangered species of wild flora and fauna.

Application of due diligence procedures are assigned to professional archivists, who are required to follow this due diligence policy as well as the guidelines published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and to comply with international treaties and standards regarding all items acquired or borrowed, regardless of type, origin and period.

Where appropriate, further guidance and advice will be sought from additional archival, curatorial and specialist consultants, such as other national archives, museums and galleries, academic institutions and major auction houses and art loss databases. The Arts Council England has a dedicated online resource administered by the Collections Trust.

Responsibility for ensuring the appropriate due diligence procedures are carried out lies with LMA Assistant Directors.

An archivist will undertake full provenance checks for all items proposed for acquisition by or loan to LMA, or where a check of existing holdings has revealed inadequate records. These checks include:

The donor, depositor, vendor or lender is required to declare their legal title and confirm their lawful right to donate, deposit, sell or lend the item.

The donor, depositor, vendor or lender is required to declare that they, as donor, depositor, vendor or lender, are not aware of any past, current or potential claim by a third party.

The donor, depositor, vendor or lender is required (if applicable) to declare that acquisitions and loans are agreed in accordance with the 1970 UNESCO Convention and in accordance with applicable national and international conventions and agreements preventing illicit trade and controlling trade in endangered species

Records and documentation of due diligence checks to obtain full knowledge of provenance will be retained: all relevant correspondence, details of published information, signed agreements, donor, depositor, lender or vendor’s evidence, and photographic evidence, together with copies of the due diligence provenance and risk assessment checklists if appropriate, will be kept on permanent files.

About this policy

This policy will be reviewed every two years. The policy was last updated in January 2022.


Please complete a comment form or contact the LMA Enquiry team if you wish to give feedback on this policy.

This policy will be reviewed at least every two years to make sure it remains timely and relevant.