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Publications by Peter Willetts
Professor of Global Politics

Output from the Research Project on Civil Society Networks in Global Governance

This is a copy of the article published in the Journal of Global Governance, Vol. 12, 2006, pages 305-324. Some additional comments have been added in square brackets, since publication, and the use of capital letters and hyphens has been changed to UN standards.
The author is grateful to the Department for International Development of the UK government, for financial support from October 2000 to September 2002, to work on Civil Society Networks in Global Governance as part of the Globalisation and Poverty Research Programme.


The Cardoso Report on the UN and Civil Society:
Functionalism, Global Corporatism or Global Democracy?



The Report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations–Civil Society Relations was published in June 2004. It strongly endorsed the case for wider participation of civil society in all aspects of the UN's work, both at the headquarters and at the country level. However, the Panel members displayed little understanding of the existing NGO consultative arrangements. Many of its recommendations were impolitic or impractical. The report was intellectually incoherent because it embodied three competing theoretical frameworks: functionalism, neo-corporatism, and democratic pluralism. The functionalist emphasis on expertise and the neo-corporatist emphasis on engaging stakeholders cannot offer criteria for participation on an all-embracing democratic basis. Reform is needed to provide facilities and resources to enhance participation by marginalized groups.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been important participants in the United Nations system since 1945. They have access to intergovernmental meetings, present written statements, make speeches, and lobby for specific texts to be adopted. For the first twenty-five years, fewer than 400 NGOs were registered with the UN, and at any particular meeting only a few of these were active, mainly behind the scenes. During the 1970s, a series of major UN conferences stimulated a tremendous growth in the number of NGOs, the range of issues addressed, the types of activities undertaken, the amount of media coverage, and the extent of influence achieved. Now more than 3,000 NGOs are registered as having consultative status, and many more have some involvement in UN policy-making. However, NGOs are still predominantly limited to conferences and the subsidiary bodies of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).[01] They have no formal status within the General Assembly, the Security Council, or the international economic institutions. Many NGOs want their participation rights to be extended to these forums, but there is significant

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opposition to this among the UN's member governments. A second problem is the imbalance within the NGO community at the UN between the numbers of individuals from North America and northern Europe and the lower numbers from other parts of the world, particularly from Africa. In this article, I analyze the conclusions of a review, known as the Cardoso Report, that was intended to address these limitations to the consultative arrangements and to generate new ideas for civil society engagement with the UN.[02]

There are three normative arguments for enhancing NGO participation in policy-making: the functionalist appeal for the use of expertise; the corporatist desire to involve the affected interests; and the pluralist belief in democratic policy- making. The three arguments are all clearly present in the Cardoso Report, but confusion results because they are not compatible with each other. The first two approaches represent a threat to the NGO participation rights that have been operating for the last sixty years at the United Nations. The only morally sound and politically feasible basis for legitimizing wider NGO participation in the UN system is the democratic claim for all voices to be heard in global policy debates. The goals of extending ECOSOC participation rights to other forums and of increased participation from civil society in developing countries will be analyzed below in this light.

The Cardoso Panel on United Nations–
Civil Society Relations

The work of the Cardoso Panel must be seen as part of the reform process that Kofi Annan initiated as soon as he took office in January 1997. His first report to launch the reforms called for the United Nations “to engage civil society and make it a true partner in its work”.[03] Progress was slow and many new ideas met with opposition. Initially, Annan appeared to underestimate the antagonism of some governments. In September 2002, he returned to the fray and announced he would appoint a review panel. This was in the context of bold suggestions for strengthening the UN's human rights activities, diverting public information work into achieving a wider impact on the general public, enhancing the managerial authority of the newly created resident co-ordinators in developing countries, and creating a Partnerships Office to work with the major corporations on the Global Compact.[04] With the second set of proposals, Annan was proposing on his own initiative to extend the UN from being a diplomatic forum to being the focal point for wider global politics, as no previous Secretary-General would have dared to do.

After nearly six years of reform, Annan still did not feel he could implement major changes in the consultative arrangements. While there had

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been substantial evolution and innovation in the practice of engagement with NGOs, governments were very reluctant to allow changes in the rules, for fear of being constrained at some later stage. Annan established a “panel of eminent persons to review the relationship . . . and offer practical recommendations for improved modalities of interaction”.[05] Three previous reviews—in 1950, 1968, and 1996—had each been undertaken by the NGO Committee, an intergovernmental subsidiary body of ECOSOC, but they made only minor changes to the official procedures. The general conservatism of UN delegates in New York, the specific hostility of some of them to NGOs, and the procedure of revising existing texts had not been conducive to change. Establishing a panel was a clear attempt to break free from diplomatic negotiations in order to generate new ideas.

The terms of reference for the Panel were biased by “the objective of formulating proposals for . . . enhancing interaction between the [United Nations] and civil society, including parliamentarians and the private sector”.[06] The specific remit was cast in more neutral terms. The Panel was to

Twelve individuals, including Fernando Cardoso in the chair, were appointed to the Panel. The group of seven men and five women were evenly distributed across the UN's regional groups. They came from diverse backgrounds: five academics or political writers; four development consultants or activists; four with sustainable development or environmental interests; three from diplomacy; five from government, and four NGO leaders. (Most members of the Panel fell in two or three of these categories.) Despite the careful political balance and the wealth of experience, the Panel members individually and collectively lacked the necessary range and depth of personal involvement in the subject matter. Only one—Kumi Naidoo, from the South African NGO Civicus—had significant experience, but he was a relative newcomer to the scene. Knowing about the UN or knowing about

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NGOs does not mean knowing about the UN's relations with NGOs. It was a Panel of Eminent Persons, but not a panel of experts.

The Cardoso Report argued there had been a growth in civil society's engagement with the UN, which furthered the UN's global goals and promoted an inclusive approach to the management of globalization. The engagement should be strengthened in order to reduce the democratic deficit in global governance. Non-state actors were growing in capacity and influence. New information technology and global networks were creating a global public opinion and “a cosmopolitan set of norms and citizen demands”. Global civil society now faced problems of accountability and integrity; but provided “some basic standards of governance” are met, intergovernmental deliberations can be strengthened by “sensitising them to public opinion and grass-roots realities”. The UN should reach out to civil society so that other actors could help identify global priorities, raise new issues, assist in global policy-making, build partnerships with the UN, connect the UN with public opinion, and enhance the UN's legitimacy. Civil society actors can offer “first-hand information, experience and capacity”; they “have access to new resources and skills”; and they provide “diverse expertise”. The UN needed a new approach. It should become outward looking and embrace many constituencies, becoming more than an organization exclusively for governments. It should connect the local with the global and accept a more explicit role in tackling democratic deficits in global governance. In practical terms, this means supplementing the “traditional intergovernmental process” and existing consultative arrangements by working with global policy networks, which “might include Governments, local authorities, civil society actors, firms and others”. Once policy has been agreed, its implementation should be through multistakeholder partnerships.[08]

The Cardoso Report was poorly received by all significant political actors: by governments from both the North and the South, by most NGOs, and by the UN Secretary-General.[09] The inappropriate membership of the Panel was shown in its inability to understand, let alone address, the four topics in its terms of reference. The report did not mention the UN's Statute for NGOs and so did not review NGO “access to and participation in United Nations deliberations”. It made occasional mention of good practice in the UN system but made no attempt to analyze and “identify best practices” for interacting with NGOs. It endorsed the need for greater engagement with NGOs from developing countries, but its proposals on this question were mainly focused on country-level activities rather than how “participation [in intergovernmental debates] . . . can be facilitated. ” It did give substantial attention to “how the Secretariat is organized” but failed to assess the consequences of its suggestions.

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The Political Naďveté and
Intellectual Incoherence of the Panel's Report

The Panel demonstrated little understanding of the need for a diplomatic approach. It is true that many in the Secretariat, a majority of governments, and many NGOs had a very positive view of global policy networks. The report could have stated this in the abstract, but it was a gross error to praise their confrontation with the US administration. The prototype cited for “networked governance” was the intergovernmental code for the marketing of baby foods, which was passed with the United States as the sole opposing vote.[10] Their list of prominent issues, “advanced and shaped by civil society,” included climate change, big dams, debt relief, AIDS treatment, small arms, child soldiers, landmines, and crimes against humanity.[11] Apart from arms control and the Middle East, this was almost a complete list of the issues on which there had been widespread and deep antagonism toward the policies of successive US administrations. To rub salt in the wound, the report advocated that the UN enhance relations with civil society to “keep the United Nations in tune with global public opinion—the 'second super-power'—and enhance its legitimacy” and to provide “a protection against further erosion of multilateralism”.[12] Being in tune with a second superpower implies being out of tune with the first superpower. It was not wise to assert such a goal.

The report also caused offense to many other governments by seeking to influence the internal politics of individual countries. This arose in the appeals for the UN to “help shape public attitudes,” “raise awareness,” and “draw on the power of public opinion,” because “governments alone cannot resolve today's global challenges”.[13] Furthermore, in the case of developing countries, a wide range of proposals called for UN resident co-ordinators to relate to civil society and to become a major focus for domestic policy-making on development questions. At just one point, the Panel acknowledged, “While civil society can help to put issues on the global agenda, only governments have the power to decide on them”.[14] The Secretary-General's response was very different. He warmly endorsed contributions made by civil society to UN programs but asserted that “governments remain the main interlocutors for country-level engagement with the United Nations”.[15]

At a more abstract level, the Panel recognized, but failed to resolve, the central political confusion about its subject matter. Throughout the UN system  –  in resolutions, in conference declarations, and in reports –  there is a lack of consistency about what constitutes civil society. The Panel's terms of reference placed the private sector within civil society. Given the deep hostility of many NGO activists to transnational corporations, the Panel made a safer political decision in putting commercial organizations into a

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separate category. They invented a term that was new in the world of diplomacy. They referred to three constituencies: civil society, the private sector, and the state. Civil society was frequently treated as a coherent collective entity, a single “constituency”. The report did not mention, at any point, the divisions within civil society over issues such as the reconciliation of economic growth and environmental conservation; the role of corporations in development; abortion and reproductive health; or the role of women in society. Thus, the Panel failed to recognize the complexity, the diversity, and the divided nature of civil society.[16]

Having excluded the private sector from their definition of civil society, the Panel then gave it equal status to civil society. Just as they mistakenly saw civil society as a single constituency, so also they regarded the private sector as a single constituency. Many NGOs were outraged that the Panel wanted a new Office of Constituency Engagement and Partnerships to deal with both civil society and the private sector, including the existing Global Compact arrangements between major transnational corporations (TNCs) and the UN.[17] Fears were expressed that the NGO voices would be submerged by companies gaining equal access and greater influence.[18] The Secretary-General's response was to downplay questions of engaging with the private sector, use the term constituencies in a looser, more pluralist manner, stick to the existing name for the Partnerships Office, and minimize the need for change.[19]

There is a second core conceptual question: What does the United Nations mean by an NGO? The glossary of the report pointed to the difference between the UN definition covering all organizations “not created by intergovernmental decision, including associations of businesses, parliamentarians and local authorities” and much usage outside the UN, where “NGO has become shorthand for public-benefit NGOs,” providing “advocacy or services”.[20] Then in the report there were frequent references to NGOs only being part of civil society.[21] Such an attitude is widespread. Some developing country governments and activists caricature NGOs as being Northern, in contrast to Southern, civil society. Trade unionists, religious leaders, and indigenous people claim greater legitimacy by distinguishing themselves from small and medium-sized NGOs. Social welfare, environmental, and development activists are often biased toward community- based organizations (CBOs), which are seen as being different from NGOs. Many aid donors wish to expand their relations with development and environmental NGOs into other sectors of society. Finally, radical and populist groups argue that social movements are more progressive than supposedly conservative NGOs co-opted by the UN. The Panel promoted confusion by a similar unacknowledged refusal to use the term NGOs to cover all civil society groups. It then failed to offer an alternative terminology for discussing accreditation of groups by the UN.

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The definitional questions were crucial to meeting the Panel's terms of reference. The UN, as an institution, cannot relate to civil society as a whole or to social movements, because these are general, abstract collectivities. For development activities, in individual countries, there may be fluid, informal arrangements. However, in New York and Geneva, the UN must have a list of accredited groups in order to distribute documents, invite attendance, issue security passes, and organize input to debates. NGOs could be relabeled as civil society organizations, but that would not change the political process. The Secretary-General dealt with this problem in his response to the Panel, by immediately asserting he would discuss NGOs “in accordance with traditional United Nations parlance”[22] and by using civil society and NGOs as interchangeable terms.

The Panel did not seem to know how the consultative system works. The report asserted that “participation is essentially restricted to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) . . . and to a fixed slate of accredited organizations; important expertise elsewhere is overlooked”.[23] In practice, the UN does recognize all conceivable groups, and it is false to say that any expertise is “overlooked”. The private sector, trade unions, professional associations, religious groups, indigenous people, parliamentarians, and local authorities all come within the UN jargon, as “NGOs”. Of course, not all sectors of civil society are equally represented within the consultative system. However, those who wish to widen access do not need to challenge the concept of an NGO or deny the breadth of the existing system. They need solely to address the bureaucratic, logistical, and financial constraints on participation by specific groups.

The Panel was insensitive to the concerns of governments, gave inadequate attention to the procedural questions central to its terms of reference, lacked overall coherence, appeared to be ignorant of how the consultative arrangements work, and did not resolve arguments about the meanings of non-governmental organizations and civil society. However, these failings were not simply due to the Panel's lack of experience. There was also confusion of three different intellectual and political frameworks underlying their analysis and their proposals for reform.

The Three Theoretical Frameworks
Embedded in the Panel's Report

In the preceding discussion, civil society actors are seen as having three very different roles in the UN system. They can provide a variety of forms of apolitical expertise and enhance the quality of the UN's policy-making. They can represent various sectors of society and ensure that those interests are heard in the policy debates. They can be the voice of public opinion and

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engage the UN in a more democratic policy-making system. The first two roles were strongly emphasized by the Panel, but the third received less attention The report can be interpreted as expressing strong strands of functionalism and of corporatism, with a weaker strand of democratic pluralism. Each of the theoretical frameworks underpins about a third of the thirty policy proposals in the Panel's report, but those intended to enhance democratic pluralism were the least likely to be implemented. In addition, the three frameworks are incompatible with each other. In particular, functionalism and corporatism are each intrinsically anti-democratic.


When the UN and several of its agencies were created, the functionalist approach to international relations was strong in the academic community and an important component of public debate. Its leading proponent was David Mitrany. He assumed that all people had a shared interest in public welfare, in sectors such as health, education, or transport. Governments generated political processes that interfered with efficient and equitable promotion of the common good by encouraging political conflict within and between states. Centralized, territorially based governments should be replaced by separate systems of governance for each task, or function, that society requires. Some functions are best handled at the local level, some in wider areas, and some on a continental or global basis. The aphorism from functionalists in architecture and design “form follows function” was held to apply to governance systems as well. Decision-making should be the responsibility of those who are directly involved, as producers, administrators, or consumers. There was a strong emphasis on the ability of experts to maximize welfare and to depoliticize decision-making.[24]

When the UN Charter was negotiated, such ideas were reflected in having three councils with different “functions” rather than a single executive board; in having “functional commissions” under ECOSOC; in providing for consultations with NGOs; and in creating autonomous agencies, such as the World Health Organization and UNESCO. Legally these agencies are known as specialized agencies, but they are often referred to as the functional agencies. Their executive boards would not be composed of governments, sending politically appointed representatives, but individuals, who must have expertise in the agencies' subject matter. In the case of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to this day, its directors even become employees of the Fund and have a duty to promote the common interest. Thus, functionalist ideas are part of the UN's history.[25]

The Panel adopted a modern version of “form follows function” through repeated calls for the UN to work with global policy networks, composed of like-minded actors from the public sector, the private sector, and civil

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society. There were sub-headings to the report on the need to Shift the focus from generalized assemblies to specific networks and to Embrace greater flexibility in the design of United Nations forums. Each forum would have “a different style of work and degree of formality, with different participants engaged for the contribution they offered and for the task at hand”.[26] The report used functionalist vocabulary with great frequency in talking of expertise, skills, evidence, knowledge, experience, efficiency, independent specialists, mutual learning, and objectivity—and of being results-focused, technical, and more effective. The functionalist bypassing of politics was asserted with language on identifying priorities, doing a better job, and pursuing global goals—without any reference whatsoever to the criteria for evaluating priorities, choosing what was “better” or establishing goals.

The functionalist approach is evident in the Panel's proposals to reform the main UN organs. One section of the report, headed Streamlining and Depoliticizing Accreditation and Access, contained a controversial proposal for NGO accreditation to be “based on the applicants' expertise, competence and skills”.[27] The Security Council should have seminars for “gathering evidence from civil society . . . before a Council position is negotiated”; it should gain “on-the-ground knowledge” from meeting local civil society leaders in field missions and, after peacekeeping operations end, it should convene commissions that would “take evidence from civil society specialists and would assess operations”. The new merit-based accreditation system should provide a single process covering the Assembly, ECOSOC, and the Department of Public Information and “should shift the task of reviewing applications to the Secretariat so as to reduce time inefficiencies and increase the technical focus of the review”. Emerging issues should be explored in “small, informal, high-level, round-table forums to allow real exchanges of experience”. There should be public hearings, which would be “technical forums,” “to determine appropriate course corrections” for progress toward global goals.[28]


From the end of World War I until the 1980s, there was a widespread belief that each country's economy should be managed by the government, in close collaboration with trade unions, employers, and other sectoral interests. The government would benefit from sectoral organizations delivering the support of their members, while they in turn had their essential interests protected by government policy. When such an approach is institutionalized, it is known as corporatism. Several countries in Southern Europe and Latin America experienced authoritarian corporatism from the 1930s to the 1970s. In parts of Europe, notably in Austria and Scandinavia, a liberal variant of corporatism, known as neo-corporatism, was at its height in the 1950s

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and 1960s.[29] Neo-corporatism is comparable to functionalism in that it has been described as a system of functional representation. It differs markedly from functionalism in acknowledging that different interests may be in conflict with each other and in recognizing that governments are the focal point for the political resolution of such conflicts. Such ideas found expression in the tripartite system of governance for the International Labour Organization, established in 1919. Most of the other UN agencies, but not the UN itself, developed formal or informal modes of collaboration with the main interests affected by their work soon after they were established. However, such links were generally too weak to be characterized as global neo-corporatism.

A different strand of corporatist thought came out of the business studies literature of the 1980s on corporate governance, with the development of arguments that successful management required responsibility toward a variety of stakeholders in a business.[30] Such ideas entered political debate in Britain, with the publication in 1995 of an influential work by Will Hutton calling for the government to promote stakeholder capitalism.[31] In global politics, the 1992 Earth Summit prepared the ground for this approach. One of its final documents, Agenda 21, called for governments to work with nine different “major groups” within society to achieve sustainable development.[32] Since 1995, all work within the UN on sustainable development questions has involved consultations with the major groups. In the Commission on Sustainable Development, such consultations gradually became more formal and from 1999 came to be described as “multistakeholder dialogues”. The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg moved on to a heavy emphasis on “partnerships”.

The Panel's report took such language for granted in many calls for multistakeholder partnerships, multisectoral partnerships, or simply partnerships between the UN, governments, the private sector, and civil society. Its new concept of “constituencies,” to which it gave a central role, was also neo-corporatist, particularly when used to call for multiconstituency processes. It proposed the establishment of a new Office of Constituency Engagement and Partnerships, with an Under-Secretary-General in charge. This would comprise a Civil Society Unit and a Partnership Development Unit to promote “the partnership approach” throughout the UN system and in the UN's country-level operational programs; an Elected Representatives Liaison Unit to relate to parliamentarians; the existing Global Compact Office, which was formed in July 2000 to engage companies in the UN's promotion of human rights, labor standards, and the environment; and the existing secretariat for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.[33] The neo-corporatist approach lays heavy emphasis on the role of the government in the economy. Similarly, both at the UN and for the Panel, the concept of partnerships is heavily biased toward country-level, development projects. A related aspect of the neo-corporatist model is for companies to be close to

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political authority. Historically, the UN has not officially dealt with individual companies in its policy-making processes, other than through their membership of non-commercial associations. Under Kofi Annan's leadership, this started to change, notably with the Global Compact. The Panel called for the Secretariat to strengthen its relationship with the private sector, but it did not go so far as to suggest any system for accreditation of companies.[34]

Democratic Pluralism

While the UN Charter created a Commission on Human Rights, it made no mention of democracy. Gradually the UN changed, first by promoting self-determination in colonies, then by running elections, and finally by supporting “good governance” as a contribution to development. With the democratic revolution of the 1990s, a clear majority of the world's governments have become democracies, and participation of civil society in the UN is supported as an extension of democracy at home. Both at the country level and at the UN, there are three interrelated requirements for a system to be democratic: there must be transparent decision-making processes; there must be procedures for diverse opinions to be expressed to the decision-makers; and there must be accountability for the decisions taken.[35] In principle, democracy is about the rights of individuals to control those who govern them, but in practice most individuals can exercise influence only through groups. When there is a great diversity of groups, each exercising some influence, and policy proposals can be initiated by their members, we have democratic pluralism.[36]

The UN's official proceedings have always been fully transparent. The policy documents, transcripts of debates, resolutions, and voting records are readily available. However, on most issues, NGOs rather than the media convert the transparency into visibility for the public.[37] The UN's structure is also democratic and pluralist in allowing open access. The arrangements for consultative status, with ECOSOC (but not with the General Assembly or the Security Council), allow diverse interests and attitudes to be expressed  –  through speeches, written statements, and lobbying. The unique problem of democracy at the global level is the absence of accountability through global elections. Some NGOs argue that this is a democratic deficit, which should be remedied by direct elections to a “Peoples Assembly”.[38] However, this is not politically feasible in the foreseeable future. Others argue that NGOs are the true voice of “the people” and that government delegates should be more accountable to them.[39] The argument is totally invalid, because NGOs represent no more than their supporters, who may be a minority in the general population. The UN can be accountable only to governments. However, denial of the possibility of accountability to NGOs is not a denial of the need for transparency and participation in UN forums.

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The Panel had no problem in asserting that “the growing participation and influence of non-State actors [in global governance] is enhancing democracy and reshaping multilateralism” and arguing for “greater democratic accountability of international organizations”. The United Nations should respond to globalization “by helping to connect national democratic processes with international issues and by expanding roles for civil society in deliberative processes”. To NGOs, the most pressing need for democratization in recent years has been for them to gain participation rights in the General Assembly. The Panel did endorse the argument that “there is little logic for the United Nations to recognize civil society input into the Economic and Social Council but resist a similar input to the General Assembly committees that discuss the same subjects”. However, as we have seen, they took a functionalist approach to accreditation. They also took a top-down approach to participation, saying that “the speakers from civil society and other constituencies must be chosen carefully, according to the topic at hand, through a collaborative process involving the Secretariat, constituency networks and the President and Bureau of the General Assembly”. This is an archetypal, neo-corporatist mechanism that bears no resemblance to democratic pluralism. Later, they were anti-corporatist, saying that the UN “should resist hand-picking civil society organization actors, especially for deliberative processes”.[40]

The Panel did have a strand in their proposals to enhance indirect democratic control of the UN from the country level. The UN should send its major documents to parliaments and routinely encourage parliamentary debates on UN matters. Governments were asked to include members of their parliaments in their UN delegations, to consult parliaments before UN meetings, and to report back afterwards. A new Elected Representatives Liaison Unit should provide an information service that would supply documents and service a dedicated web site. There were also radical ideas for direct engagement. The UN should hold special debates by members of parliaments from around the world, in advance of General Assembly sessions, and convene “global public policy committees,” in the manner of specialist committees in individual parliaments.[41] The latter proposal was devoid of a rationale for determining the membership of the committees, drawing up their agenda, or utilizing their work. There was a strong negative reaction from the Inter- Parliamentary Union: “It is wholly inappropriate for the United Nations to consider organizing the work of members of parliament”.[42] The response of the Secretary-General was largely to ignore the Panel's proposals and suggest, as an ad hoc first step, that the General Assembly might wish to encourage contributions of parliamentarians to a one-day meeting on HIV/AIDS in June 2005.[43] As this did not happen, the proposal on global committees would seem to be dead. The other proposals will be valuable in promoting democracy, but only to the extent that they are implemented.

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Two vague proposals called for funding from international donors to build Southern civil society capacity to engage with the UN at the country level and to participate in global deliberative processes.[44] The discussion of these funds made no mention of the existing Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS), which already works to assist developing country NGOs. Elsewhere, the Panel proposed that NGLS should cease to be a semi-autonomous, interagency program, funded by voluntary contributions, and should be integrated into the main UN Secretariat.[45] The Secretary-General responded by announcing he would create the two funds, and he clearly specified that one would support travel and accommodation expenses for developing country NGOs to attend UN meetings, while the other would enhance NGO capacity at the country level. He seemed to support bringing NGLS under the regular budget but said that this would depend on the agreement of the seventeen existing sponsors.[46] The result was to reduce the flow of funds to the NGLS, because donors assumed they would soon not be needed.[47] Relatively low participation by developing country NGO representatives is a major democratic deficit at the UN. The participation fund might well turn out to be the most significant result of the Cardoso Panel's work, provided that it does receive adequate, reliable funding and provided that the NGLS support services are also maintained.

Contradictions Between the
Three Theoretical Frameworks

A belief in democratic pluralism involves the assertion of principles that are compatible with neither functionalism nor neo-corporatism. When it comes to the accreditation of NGOs to the UN, the democrat will promote rules allowing open access, subject to basic conditions of financial probity; absence of criminal activity; and respect for the system's procedures. Functionalism aims to restrict participation to experts. Such an emphasis on expertise, knowledge, and experience is not necessarily anti-democratic. Indeed, to explore issues, with the participation of “world specialists” and ministers, in roundtables that “would inform and be informed by global public opinion,” is to contribute to democratic debate. Functionalism becomes anti-democratic when political controversy is denied or suppressed, when access to policy-making is “depoliticized,” when policy networks are limited to “relevant” actors, and when participants at the UN “would be decided . . . according to their expertise and competence”.[48] Neo-corporatism restricts participation to organized vested interests, resolves conflicts by bargaining between those interests, and ignores the general interest. The neo-corporatists will actively seek out the major organized sectional interest groups but be unconcerned if the poor, the weak, or advocates of the general public interest do not participate.

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The Panel is adopting naďve functionalism to imagine that a list of NGOs, presented by an Accreditation Unit in the Secretariat to a committee of the General Assembly, would automatically be approved without debate and controversy. When the Panel says the Secretariat should maintain contacts with government delegates to “resolve potential concerns” and the committee might decide about individual NGOs on a “no-objection basis,” it is not depoliticizing accreditation but proposing a system that would be far more restrictive than the current NGO Committee.[49] It is putting a pistol into the hands of undemocratic governments to shoot at any NGO that criticizes them, with “lack of expertise” being the silencer on the pistol.

Similarly, any system of the UN Secretariat “exercising its convening power” or deciding to “initiate multi-stakeholder advisory forums,” from New York on a top-down basis, would be a neo-corporatist rejection of democracy.[50] Existing events convened as stakeholder forums or based on the “major groups” work smoothly and avoid deep conflicts for only two reasons. First, they are in practice open to all registered NGOs. The arbitrary and incomplete specification of major groups does not exclude any social, economic, or political group, because one of the nine groups is a residual catch-all category.[51] Second, decisions on who will participate, what will be said, what papers will be presented, and what their content should be are not organized by the Secretariat but by NGO networks or caucuses on a bottom-up basis.

A Democratic Approach to Reform

Clearly, Kofi Annan, the Cardoso Panel, most NGOs, and many governments do feel that reform and revitalization of the United Nations must include the promotion of stronger relationships between NGOs and UN policy-making forums, but a significant minority of governments are deeply hostile to NGOs. Opposition may be led by a disparate group of authoritarian governments, but the representatives of democracies, such as the United States, France, and India, have also at times opposed change. The core political question is whether the majority of developing countries in the Non-Aligned Movement can be persuaded to support change, and for them the key is the under-representation of developing country NGOs within the NGO community at UN headquarters.

At the end of the third intergovernmental review of the consultative arrangements in 1996, just one significant change was made to the NGO statute. NGOs were no longer expected to be regional or global in their membership, and those based in a single country—known as national NGOs— could be accredited. The aim was to allow developing country NGOs access

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to the UN without their having to come via membership in international NGOs. In practice, this was a mistake. It opened the door for North American and European national NGOs and for developing country governments to promote “GONGOs” (government-organized NGOs) but not very many genuine, active, developing country NGOs. The new participation fund, arising from the Cardoso Panel, will help developing country national NGOs that are already accredited to appear in New York more often and encourage new ones to become accredited. However, more political action is needed to increase the integration of developing country NGOs into the consultative arrangements.

There are several important practical problems that were addressed by the Panel, but have not received attention in responses to their report. New inexperienced NGO representatives should arrive at the UN with a better understanding of the consultative arrangements. The Panel suggested that the Secretariat should produce briefing booklets.[52] More than this could be done. The UN website should provide, for each UN body, its basic history, a glossary of the diplomatic jargon, a guide to the interpretation of its documents, an outline of its procedures, and a list of NGO contacts. The current UN website is excellent in providing documents but difficult for a novice to understand. The Panel suggested “training in advance of participation,” without elaborating the idea.[53] For each session for which a sufficient number of new people have registered in advance, the Secretariat should fund a training workshop on documentation and procedures to be held a few days before the session opens. Normally, such workshops should be organized by NGOs. This sometimes occurs now, but coverage is patchy. The Panel could have gone further by appealing for a charitable foundation to establish and maintain a NGO accommodation center for visiting NGO representatives. A non-commercial center would not only help with funding problems, but could also provide important political benefits, particularly if some meeting rooms, information services, and administrative support were available.

The Panel was accurate in criticizing the accreditation system as being time-consuming, inefficient, and frustrating for many NGO representatives. It suggested that $3 million could be saved each year by abolishing the NGO Committee and transferring the main responsibility for accreditation to the Secretariat, under the supervision of a General Assembly committee.[54] However, there is no possibility of achieving such large savings. Nevertheless, the debates could be shorter and more focused by moving from considering each application separately to approving Secretariat recommendations, as is done for UN conferences. Governments will not give the Secretariat decision-making authority on sensitive political questions, but they could conceivably limit themselves to short debates and votes on contested applications.

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Officially, NGOs are divided into General Status, Special Status, and the Roster, based on the range of their activities and the geographical spread of their membership. It is a clear violation of the NGO statute that some twenty of the 134 NGOs with General Status are national NGOs and a further ten are regional, when they are supposed to be concerned with most ECOSOC activities and “representative of major segments of society in a large number of countries in different regions of the world”.[55] There should be a review of the current classifications of recognized NGOs to restrict General Status to those international NGOs or networks that are truly global. It is not uncommon to hear the argument that NGOs are somehow Northern when they have their headquarters in the United States or Europe. This is ludicrous if the organization concerned has membership around the world.[56] A generous definition of global NGOs might be those having at least three national sections in each region of the world; a more strict definition might be those with members in at least one-third of the countries in each region.[57] The application of the definition would result in reclassifying all regional NGOs to Special Status and all national NGOs to the Roster. This would provide a double incentive for integration in global civil society: by the national NGOs joining global international NGOs or networks and by existing international NGOs welcoming new members to widen their global coverage.

Accreditation to the General Assembly could be restricted to the global General Status NGOs. In addition, Special Status NGOs that had global coverage might be accredited to one Main Committee of the Assembly. Reinstating the principle of a privileged position for global NGOs might also help them gain access to the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. In each forum, this would reduce security concerns, meet the practical problem of limiting the numbers, avoid the possibility of national NGOs criticizing their own government in a public forum, diminish the relative weight of rich Northern national and regional NGOs, and defuse the argument about North-South imbalances. Above all, the incentives would be increased for all NGOs to operate through global structures.

Throughout the last sixty years, the UN's relations with civil society have evolved to engage increasing numbers of NGOs, through an increasing number of procedures and over an expanding range of issues. For the last thirty years, it has been a system of democratic pluralism on all economic, social, human rights, and environmental policy questions. The system does need extending to the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the global economic institutions. There should be greater participation from developing countries. The system should not be subject to any fundamental restructuring through adoption of functionalist or neo-corporatist ideas. It would benefit from a variety of reforms to strengthen democratic pluralism and increase the density of interactions in global civil society.

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Peter Willetts is Professor of Global Politics at City University, London. He has published two books on NGOs as transnational actors: Pressure Groups in the Global System and The “Conscience of the World”: The Influence of Non-Governmental Organisations in the UN System. [Since the publication of this article, he has also published Non-Governmental Organizations in World Politics. The Construction of Global Governance.]

    1. For the current workings of the consultative arrangements, see T. G. Weiss and L. Gordenker, eds., NGOs, the UN and Global Governance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1996); Peter Willetts, ed., “The Conscience of the World”: The Influence of Non-Governmental Organisations in the UN System (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; London: Christopher Hurst, 1996); and J. Foster, Whose World Is It Anyway? (Toronto: United Nations Association of Canada, 1999).     Return

    2. We the Peoples: Civil Society, the United Nations and Global Governance (New York: UN, 2004), also available as UN Doc. A/58/817 (11 June 2004). [There is also a brief corrigendum, A/58/817/Corr.1, to this report.] The Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations–Civil Society Relations, which produced this report, was chaired by the former president of Brazil, Fernando Cardoso.     Return

    3. UN Doc. A/51/950 (14 July 1997), quote from par. 59; in addition, pars. 207-216 contain a section titled Civil Society.     Return

    4. UN Doc. A/57/387 (9 September 2002), par. 34; actions 2–5, 6–10, 14–15, 19, 20, respectively.     Return

    5. Ibid., Action 19.     Return

    6. UN Doc. A/58/817, Annex I (emphasis added).     Return

    7. Ibid.; the text and the bulleted text are direct quotations. [This should have read “The text is a direct quotation and the bullet points were in the original”.]     Return

    8. The paragraph summarizes the arguments in Section I, Enhancing United Nations—Civil Society Relations in a Changing World, that underpin the Panel's proposals. The specific quotes are, respectively, from UN Doc. A/58/817, pars. 15, 18, 20, 24, and 33.     Return

    9. The main NGO responses came in August and September 2004, in an attempt to influence the Secretary-General's response. A wide selection can be found at www.globalpolicy.org/reform/initiatives/panels/cardoso. [Note that this web page now redirects to http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/226/32340.html] Annan's response to the Panel was issued as UN Doc. A/59/354 on 13 September 2004. Government responses were given in two General Assembly plenary meetings on 4 October 2004; see UN Docs. A/59/PV.18 and PV.19 and press releases GA10268–10270.     Return

    10. UN Doc. A/58/817, par. 53, cites the code, but not US opposition to it. For the full story of the code being passed, see A. Chetley, The Politics of Baby Foods: The International Campaign to Control the Marketing of Dried Milk by Transnational Companies, (London: Frances Pinter, 1986).     Return

    11. The report, UN Doc. A/58/817, contains three slightly different lists of issues on which they consider global policy networks to have made a positive impact (Executive Summary, p. 9; pars. 19, 51). The quote is from par. 19. There is also a reference in par. 2 to “unilateralism and war,” and par. 177 talks of “world powers lurching between unilateral and multilateral options”.     Return

    12. The quotes are, respectively, from UN Doc. A/58/817, par. 24, and the Executive Summary, p. 7.     Return

    13. UN Doc. A/58/817; the quotes are from the Executive Summary, Proposal 3, and twice from par. 29. The idea in the first quote is also expressed in pars. 31 and 187. The report contains twenty-five endorsements of multilateralism.     Return

    14. UN Doc. A/58/817, par. 19.     Return

    15. UN Doc. A/59/354, par. 38.     Return

    16. In UN Doc. A/58/817, par. 32–34, headed Embrace many constituencies, there was a more pluralist approach, but the section ended with civil society

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still being treated as a single constituency. Only pars. 138 and 156 explicitly recognized diversity, while twenty-one references encompassed civil society as a single constituency. In contrast, A/59/354 referred to multiple NGO constituencies, in pars. 8, 13, and 36.     Return

    17. UN Doc. A/58/817, Proposal 9.     Return

    18. See nine documents, in August–October 2004, from major NGOs expressing varying levels of unease about engagement with the private sector, all available at www.globalpolicy.org. [Currently, there are eleven documents in the “NGO Contributions & Responses” section of this web page.]     Return

    19. In UN Doc. A/59/354, Proposals 4, 7–9, 17, and 21 were ignored. Also, renaming the Partnership Office, Proposal 24 on indigenous people and merging Department of Public Information (DPI) accreditation with consultative status were rejected in note 4, par. 52 and par. 27, respectively.     Return

    20. UN Doc. A/58/817, Glossary (NGO entry).     Return

    21. Ibid., pars. 43, 53, 97, 98, and 172.     Return

    22. Quote from UN Doc. A/59/354, note 1.     Return

    23. UN Doc. A/58/817, par. 43.     Return

    24. Mitrany's most influential work was a pamphlet, A Working Peace System (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1943). For further functionalist work in Britain, see J. W. Burton, World Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972); and A. J. R. Groom and P. Taylor, eds., Functionalism: Theory and Practice in International Relations (London: University of London Press, 1975).     Return

    25. A more detailed account of the influence of functionalism on the design of the UN system is given in R. Righter, Utopia Lost: The United Nations and World Order (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1995), pp. 33–36.     Return

    26. UN Doc. A/58/817, par. 45.     Return

    27. UN Doc. A/58/817; headings from Section VII and text from Proposal 19. See also par. 65, introducing Proposal 6.     Return

    28. Quotes, respectively, from UN Doc. A/58/817, pars. 99, 96, and 100, introducing Proposal 12; Proposal 20; par. 46, introducing Proposal 2; and pars. 61–62, introducing Proposal 5.     Return

    29. See, for example, P. C. Schmitter and G. Lehmbruch, eds., Trends Toward Corporatist Intermediation (London: Sage, 1979); W. Grant, ed., The Political Economy of Corporatism (London: Macmillan, 1985); A. Cawson, Corporatism and Political Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986); and P. J. Williamson, Corporatism in Perspective: An Introductory Guide to Corporatist Theory (London: Sage, 1989).     Return

    30. See R. E. Freeman, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach (Boston: Pitman, 1984), and M. B. E. Clarkson, The Corporation and Its Stakeholders: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998).     Return

    31. W. Hutton, The State We Are In (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995), particularly chap.12. See also B. A. Ackerman and A. Alstott, The Stakeholder Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).     Return

    32. Agenda 21 is in UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26.     Return

    33. The language is used too extensively to give specific citations. Thirteen of the thirty proposals in the report, UN Doc. A/58/817, and forty of the 185 paragraphs were concerned with stakeholders and/or partnerships. Similarly, thirteen proposals and fifty paragraphs mentioned constituencies. The new office is detailed in Proposal 24.     Return

    34. UN Doc. A/58/817, Proposal 9, refers only vaguely to “engaging” with businesses.     Return

    35. This position is not stated explicitly in the report, but it is implied at many points. The three elements occur together in par. 7 of UN Doc. A/58/817.     Return

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    36. Pluralism has mainly been studied at the country level. See R. A. Dahl, Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963); and Dahl, Pluralist Democracy in the United States: Conflict and Consent (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967). The term has also been used in international relations to cover writing on transnational actors. See P. R. Viotti and M. V. Kauppi, International Relations Theory: Realism, Pluralism, Globalism (New York: Macmillan, 1987). Its use here is not intended to suggest that all groups have the same amount of influence.     Return

    37. The Security Council is an exception to this argument, both in lacking full transparency and in receiving significant media coverage.     Return

    38. For a German group (Committee for a Democratic UN), see www.uno-komitee.de; for a British group (UNGA-Link), see www.ungalink.org.uk; and for the international network Campaign for a More Democratic UN, see www.oneworld.org/camdun. [As of October 2013, the third of these websites is no longer operating.]     Return

    39. There is prestigious backing for a World Forum of civil society organizations in “Action 9” of the “International Agenda” of the Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development, Our Creative Diversity (Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 1998), pp. 285–287.     Return

    40. Quotes from the Transmittal Letter for UN Doc. A/58/817, the Executive Summary and pars. 10, 66, 67, and 142, respectively.     Return

    41. UN Doc. A/58/817, Proposals 13–16.     Return

    42. Statement by the IPU Secretary-General on 4 October 2004, in the General Assembly debate on the Cardoso Report. See www.senat.fr/uip/onu/uip-onu/johnson_un_4oct04.html.     Return

    43. UN Doc. A/59/354, pars. 16–17. So far as the author can ascertain, no event involving parliamentarians was associated with this meeting.     Return

    44. UN Doc. A/58/817, Proposals 26 and 27. The drafting of these two proposals is poor in not making clear distinctions between the two funds.     Return

    45. The NGLS is discussed in a totally different context from the two funds, where it is suggested it might be the core of a Civil Society Unit in the Secretariat. See UN Doc. A/58/817, pars. 151–155.     Return

    46. UN Doc. A/59/354, pars. 22 and 47 on the two funds; and par. 49 on the NGLS.     Return

    47. On 25 October 2004, a prestigious group of thirty-one NGOs wrote to Annan expressing concern that insufficient funding threatened to inflict “serious wounds” on the NGLS. See www.globalpolicy.org.     Return

    48. UN Doc. A/58/817; first two quotes are from par. 46. For “depoliticizing accreditation,” see the heading to Section VII and par. 127. For being “relevant” as a criterion for limiting civil society participation, see Executive Summary, Convening role of the United Nations; pars. 25, 40, 65, 76, 122, 140, 142, 143, 150, 156, 158, 168, and 179; and Proposals 1 and 6. The long quote is from par. 138.     Return

    49. UN Doc. A/58/817; the suggested accreditation process is in par. 131 and Proposals 19 and 20.     Return

    50. UN Doc. A/58/817; quotes from Proposals 1 and 3. The top-down stakeholder approach is also evident in Proposals 2, 4–12, 25, 26, and 28.     Return

    51. The label non-governmental organization is used for one of the nine major groups, even though the members of all these groups can be present in the UN only when they are accredited as NGOs by ECOSOC.     Return

    52. UN Doc. A/58/817, par. 136; Proposal 21.     Return

    53. UN Doc. A/58/817, par. 165. In A/59/354, par. 22, it is not clear whether the Secretary-General rejected this by appearing to limit the participation fund to travel and accommodation.     Return

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    54. On the criticisms, see UN Doc. A/58/817, pars. 124 and 128–130; on costs and savings, see pars. 129 and 170; on the alternative accreditation system, see pars. 130–132.     Return

    55. ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31, 25 July 1996, par. 22.     Return

    56. The Panel repeated the argument in UN Doc. A/58/817, pars. 143 and 161, but only rebutted it indirectly in par. 162. The Secretary-General appeared to endorse the argument in UN Doc. A/59/354, par. 20.     Return

    57. It would also be necessary to define global status for NGOs that do not have membership based on national sections.     Return

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