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International Translation Day: The ethical commitment of professional translators

logo_fit2The theme for this year's ITD is Translation and Ethics - The ethical commitment of professional translators.

In order to encourage further debate on this crucial issue for our profession and provide some elements which might give rise to ideas about the celebration of this year's translation day, FIT (International Federation of Translators)is offering the following comments to all Translators and their professional organizations:

The concept of ethics (and ethical behaviour) is being discussed much more often for a variety of reasons. Ethical. behaviour in the professions has become the subject of discussion and debate principally because the complexities and processes in modern communication practices, highlight more starkly the pitfalls which await the unwary and the scope for discrediting the profession through unethical behaviour has increased.

Ethical behaviour means adhering to the professional code of ethics. There is no transnational code of ethics for our profession, nevertheless, the following principles generally apply and they have to do with protecting the client as well as the Translator, these include: confidentiality, impartiality, punctuality, accuracy, respect for the client, fair dealing and disqualifying oneself from a task if this is seen as beyond one's qualifications; last but not least, professional translators must commit themselves to continuously updating their knowledge and expertise.

Ethical behaviour also means a fair competition between colleagues, including mutual assistance whenever needed, and joint efforts towards the promotion of the profession and the defence of its professional practitioners.

Although these elements are variously interpreted around the world, not the least because of local legal restrictions and cultural imperatives, they do represent the core of values which must be upheld for the profession and its members to be seen as professionals and to obtain the professional status they deserve.

In a world of local face to face interaction these elements produce certain behaviours; in a world of global communication the issues they give rise to are much more subtle and difficult to deal with. For example, the client has not only an unassailable right to confidentiality in terms of the subject matter being translated, but this right also extends to the mere indication that a translation is being done. The latter information could give others access to a fact that would compromise the reason for which the translation is being done. The use of translation memories is another area where the question of ethics becomes crucial. If a colleague has done a previous translation which is given as an extraction from a translation memory, is it ethical for the second translator to use the work of others as his or hers? How does this impinge on the concept of ownership and copyright.

These are only two of many situations which should be considered during the activities on Translation Day 2001 in order to communicate and reflect upon the necessity for translators to be committed to ethical behavior.