Gradually, over the past twenty years, an awareness of the high proportion of clandestinely excavated, stolen, smuggled and illicitly-traded objects has become an overt concern for conservators and the conservation profession. There is increased anxiety about how to proceed when confronted with material whose history is unknown.
This paper will examine some of the new legal developments in this area with particular focus on due diligence. This principle is recognized as essential for purchasers to be regarded as having bought an object in good faith and is enshrined in the 1995 Unidroit Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects. Recent national laws in Switzerland and the United Kingdom have drawn on this requirement to exercise due diligence. How this principle should be used in encounters with objects to avoid ethical compromise of conservators will be explored. Negotiations by conservators to arrange access to databases of stolen objects such as the Art Loss Register will also be addressed. The limitations of such databases especially with regard to archaeological artefacts will also be discussed.