header image


Mercari Publishes Proprietary Ethical R&D Guidelines Based on Joint Research with Osaka University’s ELSI Center

Top>Mercari Publishes Proprietary Ethical R&D Guidelines Based on Joint Research with Osaka University’s ELSI Center

Beginning Full-Scale Joint Research and Aiming to Build Role Models for Corporate R&D Organizations With Strong Ethicality and Sociality

Mercari, Inc. (“Mercari”) and its research and development organization Mercari R4D (“R4D”), alongside Osaka University’s Research Center on Ethical, Legal and Social Issues (“ELSI Center”), have published a set of proprietary ethical R&D guidelines developed based on their joint research regarding ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI). R4D and the ELSI Center have also begun full-scale joint research and will aim to build role models for corporate R&D organizations with strong ethicality and sociality.

ELSI, an acronym for ethical, legal, and social issues, refers to a research area that aims to identify the non-technical issues that may arise when researching, developing, and implementing new science and technology, and to propose solutions to those issues from diverse viewpoints.

Recently, in the IT and tech industries, various ethical, legal, and social issues associated with new technologies and concepts (e.g., AI and ethics, biometrics, and data business and privacy) have emerged as a result of their social implementation. This has forced many companies, both in Japan and overseas, to confront these issues. Additionally, the Basic Act on Science, Technology, and Innovation, which was revised by the Japanese government in 2020, emphasizes the importance of incorporating knowledge of social sciences when implementing emergent technologies into society. Despite this, Japan has very few initiatives for industry-academia collaboration in this area, and success stories and expertise are in high demand.

R4D aims to achieve Mercari’s mission to create value in a global marketplace where anyone can buy & sell through its research and development work. As it is essential to consider ethicality and sociality in carrying out this mission in the long term, R4D has focused on the importance of ELSI research that targets R&D and corporate operations, and as such, opened discussions regarding joint research with the ELSI Center in spring 2020, shortly after its founding.

Today, R4D and the ELSI Center announced the following two initiatives as part of its comprehensive industry-academia collaboration, leading the way in Japan.

1.Publishing Mercari’s Ethical R&D Guidelines

As society places more importance on the ethicality and sociality of corporate operations and R&D, R4D and the ELSI Center launched joint research on ELSI in 2020 with the goal of updating R&D ethics review processes to meet these demands.1 The two organizations carried out a feasibility study (short-term joint research with a small investment) from September 2020 to March 2021, during which they revised R4D’s Ethical R&D Guidelines, as well as created and provided training for researchers and members of the R4D Ethics Review Committee.

These Ethical R&D Guidelines2 stipulate R4D’s basic principles for all research and development activities, with the goals of enhancing the ethicality and sociality of R&D activities at tech companies such as Mercari and achieving responsible research & innovation (RRI)3. It is extremely rare for a private-sector company to voluntarily define ethical guidelines for all R&D activities, let alone publish them. R4D and the ELSI Center hope that publishing these Ethical R&D Guidelines to a wide audience will create opportunities for discussion of responsible research & innovation and create model cases for industry-academia joint research in the social sciences.

2.Beginning full-scale joint research

In April 2021, R4D and the ELSI Center began full-scale comprehensive joint research on ELSI, covering all corporate R&D activities. This joint research aims to develop a diverse range of practical methods for implementing the ideals and principles contained in the Ethical R&D Guidelines into everyday R&D work. Through these practical research activities, the organizations will continue to review and update the Ethical R&D Guidelines.

Additionally, R4D aims to acquire knowledge and expertise in the social sciences through this joint research. R4D believes that building relationships with academia and accumulating knowledge and expertise in the social sciences facilitates dialogue with society when deploying new technology and concepts, and is an important step toward strengthening the company’s competitive edge in the long term. However, there are a limited number of researchers in the humanities and social sciences that carry out practical research covering corporate operations and R&D activities, and it is necessary to promote growth and talent development in ELSI research areas as a whole through industry-academia collaboration. R4D and the ELSI Center hope to contribute to talent development in academia and the understanding of ELSI in the industry and society as a whole by deepening practical discussions with humanities and social sciences researchers in academia in order to enhance the ethicality and sociality of corporate operations and R&D activities.

Outline of full-scale joint research between R4D and the ELSI Center

  • Enhancing R&D ethics reviews
    • In order to carry out effective ethics reviews based on the Ethical R&D Guidelines, ELSI Center researchers will participate in Mercari’s internal R&D Ethics Review Committee and work with R4D to observe, evaluate, and improve the process.
  • Carrying out technology assessments for individual R&D topics (evaluating the social impact of technology)
    • R4D and the ELSI Center will test methods to brainstorm and anticipate the impact of individual R&D activities on society in the future, as well as methods to incorporate diverse social values.
    • Examples:
      • Running scenario workshops or similar processes to create maps of ELSI topics and visualize latent risks and opportunities
      • Inviting stakeholders and members of the public to workshops to create opportunities for careful deliberation and mutual learning
  • Conducting divergent exploration of ELSI research across Mercari Group
    • R4D and the ELSI Center will explore ELSI research tasks across Mercari Group using methods from philosophy; ethics; cultural anthropology; science, technology, and society theory, and more.
    • The organizations will try using social science-based studies to discover new research tasks for R4D and bring awareness to Mercari’s businesses in order for Mercari to achieve its mission to create value in a global marketplace where anyone can buy & sell.
  • Carrying out research networking
    • R4D and the ELSI Center will aim to contribute to the development of practical ELSI research through open discussions with other companies, universities, and research organizations.

Through the publication of these Ethical R&D Guidelines and comprehensive joint research on ELSI, R4D and the ELSI Center will explore methodology for seamlessly implementing new science and technology in society. The organizations will also proactively share knowledge gained from this research and aim to build role models for corporate R&D organizations with strong ethicality and sociality.

  1. Mercari and Osaka University ELSI Center Begin Joint Research (https://about.mercari.com/press/news/articles/20201218_elsi/) *only available in Japanese
  2. For details about the revisions and processes carried out through this joint research, see the report and ELSI Note blog entry published on the ELSI Center’s website. The report contains a comparison of the old and new versions of the guidelines in its appendix.ELSI Note—From Research to R&D Ethical Guidelines: Attempting to Integrate ELSI Compliance into Corporate R&D Processes(https://elsi.osaka-u.ac.jp/research/1180) *only available in Japanese
  3. RRI is a concept that arose from ELSI in Europe in the 2010s. This term refers to research and innovation processes for science and technology where a wide range of players in society work together and take into consideration the potential impact that science/technology will have on society in the future.