Economic globalization has profound implications for health. The scale of injustice at a global level, reflected in inexorably widening disparities in wealth and health, also has critical implications for health related research--in particular when the opportunities for exploiting research subjects are carefully considered. The challenge of developing universal guidelines for international clinical research is addressed against the background of a polarizing, yet interdependent, world in which all are ultimately threatened by lack of social justice. It is proposed that in such a world there is a need for new ways of thinking about research and its relevance to health at a global level. Responsibility to use knowledge and power wisely requires more radical changes to guidelines for research ethics than are currently under consideration.