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Prevention of illicit trade

What is illicit trade?
Illicit trade encompasses the trade in objects illicitly removed from archaeological sites or monuments; the traffic in objects stolen from their rightful owners such as a private individual or a museum; and the illegal export of an object by its rightful owner. Illicit trade applies to objects within the UK as well as those coming from other countries on which The Portable Antiquities Scheme can provide more information. Background information on action in the UK on this issue can be found in DCMS's Cultural Property pages.

Why prevent illicit trade?
Illicit trade in cultural property damages our knowledge of the past; it costs money and damages reputations. Illicit trade damages our human and natural environment, robbing people of their history and identity. It is in all our interests to comply with The Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 which makes it a criminal offence to deal dishonestly in tainted cultural property from anywhere in the world. Working in a public collection and thereby upholding the codes of ethics of the profession, binds you to acting within the law, ethically and responsibly when acquiring an object for the collection.

What steps must I take?
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has published guidelines on Combating Illicit Trade. A range of legislation aims to prevent cultural material being illicitly traded. To prevent the illicit trade in cultural property we must ask questions. The process of asking the right questions of the right people and collecting appropriate evidence to ensure an object's legitimacy before acquisition is called due diligence. Support materials take you to resources which will help you to make a decision as to whether or not to acquire an object. Public collections commonly use 1970 as a threshold for deciding whether or not an object needs further due diligence before acquisition; this is described in Factsheet 1970 threshold. Checklists Buying with confidence and Online sources give information on questions to ask a vendor, whether an auction house, a dealer, private owner or collector, or someone selling via an online auction house. Checklists Acceptable evidence and Due diligence processes show what is acceptable evidence for due diligence and how to go about it. It is important that your institution's acquisition policies take into account the prevention of illicit trade. The Arts Council has developed a Collections Development Policy. Examples of existing museum policies can be found through Learn More.

Loan Agreements
NMDC members have agreed that national museums should make reasonable efforts to ensure that they are not lending to exhibitions containing objects without satisfactory provenance. NMDC has recommended that all its members add a clause to their own agreements along the lines of the following wording which is used by the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. 'The Borrower warrants, covenants and agrees that it has no responsible cause to believe that any object comprised in the exhibition in which the objects shall be displayed was stolen, illegally exported or illegally imported from its country of origin, as defined in the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, 1970.'

What do I do if I am suspicious about an object?
If you have any suspicions about an object you must not acquire it. If you believe a criminal offence has taken place you should report it to the police. Customs Confidential is a 24 hour helpline through which you can also report any possible illicit traffic in cultural property by visiting the website or calling 0800 595 000.

Prevention of illicit trade

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