Challenges to the Action of International Nongovernmental Organizations
- / -
Originally published under the title: List of Problems Hindering INGO
Action in The Future of Transnational Associations from the Standpoint of a New
World Order (proceedings of a symposium, Geneva, 1976). Brussels, Union of
International Associations, 1977, Appendix 4. Unfortunately, despite the elapse in time,
and the cessation of the Cold War, many of the points remain relevant
Challenges and Clarifications
- INGO political ineffectiveness
- Lack of INGO identity
- INGO operational ineffectiveness
- IGO divisive response to INGO action
- Lack of co-ordination between INGOs
- Duplication of INGO activity
- Establishment-orientation of INGOs
- Proliferation of INGOs
- Incompatibility of functionally equivalent INGO members
- Lack of awareness of inter-organizational linkages
- Lack of identity of INGO network
- Lack of national awareness of international linkages to INGOs
- Weakness of membership link to INGOs
- INGO naivety
- Inadequate INGO response to IGO preoccupations
- Locating fund sources for INGOs
- Locating channels for distribution of INGO programme funds
- INGO Fund distribution
- Obstacles to lNGO fund transfers
- Absence of INGO policy in regional IGOs
- Non-facilitative policy of IGO secretariats
- Absence of national NGOs in some countries
- Diversity of INGO organizational forms and interests
- Supposed similarity of INGOs to multinational corporations
- Non-representativity of INGOs
- Western-based INGO secretariats
- INGO use of Western-based organizational models
- Treatment of INGOs as an administrative problem
- Inadequate facilities for INGOs
- Inadequate statistical data on INGOs
- Social recognition of INGOs
- National legal status of INGOs
- Status of INGO personnel
- International legal status of INGOs
1. INGO political ineffectiveness
Problem: IGOs (such as the United Nations) and national governments are
political institutions and an INGO can only be politically effective by relating to such
bodies politically. The frustrations that many INGOs experience arise, at least in part,
from a failure to think and act politically and to acknowledge that the purpose of such
relationships is to exchange influence. This problem is aggravated by INGO indifference to
any governmental assessment of an INGO in terms of the importance of the political
constituency it represents.
Remark: Most INGOs claim to be non-political organizations, in the sense that
there is a basic distinction between the organization of a political party and an
organization representing the particular interests of its members vocational, religious,
etc. The reality of the situation is that governmental delegates assess the potential
value of an INGO primarily in terms of the political power of the constituency it
represents. INGOs controlled by particular national or cultural interests may be rejected
for this reason. Furthermore, most expertise, however technical, is now held to have
cultural overtones. Even INGOs concerned with palaeontology or sanskrit literature, for
example, are expected to align themselves with majority views of the IGO community on the
current major issues of peace, human rights, etc.
But what is political impact in this context ? Does it mean the ability to ensure that
the wording of an intergovernmental resolution is changed or that a new programme is
undertaken within an intergovernmental agency ? What is the fate of most such resolutions?
(One study showed that only 3% of intergovernmental resolutions resulted in new action.)
To the extent that many NGOs are working in areas not yet recognized as significant by
IGOs or governments, they may be preparing the way for political impact which will be
legitimated (possibly years later) by their work (e.g. the UN discovery of the environment
issues in 1972).
It is ironic that such arguments concerning political impact are made by political
scientists, often within the framework of some lNGO or one of its national members. It is
equally ironic that remarks by government delegates on political impact are made by
individuals who themselves are often members of national professional or technical
associations linked to international ho} e
2. Lack of INGO identity
Problem: INGOs do not conceive of themselves as a well- defined group of
organizations with common concerns and consequently have little basis for collective
Remark: There is no universally accepted description for organizations which are
termed 'INGO' in this paper. 'NGO' is a term applied by the UN-related
bodies in connection with their consultative status relationship, but not necessarily in
connection with contractual relationships. 'INGO' is a term favored by some
scholars. The INGOs, and especially their membership, seldom conceive of themselves as
INGOs, but rather as scientific associations, trade unions, youth organizations, etc. The
INGO sense of identity, such as it is, is therefore shared only amongst a small elite
concerned with the problems or potential of such bodies in general and who are obliged to
use the unsatisfactory description to link perceptions about a wide variety of
organizations which do not generally perceive themselves as having common concerns.
3. INGO operational ineffectiveness
Problem: Evaluation of INGOs according to some criteria leads to an assessment
of ineffectiveness which therefore justifies any proposed use of alternative
Remark: Assessment of INGO effectiveness is frequently based on the size of the
budget, the number or qualifications of paid staff, the number of members, etc. Such
assessments ignore a characteristic of INGO operations, namely that (a) the operating
costs may be directly absorbed by national members (e.g. when the INGO secretariat is
handled by a national NGO), b) much of the work may be done by people working voluntarily
(who may be both skilled and highly influential) and c) the members may be significant not
in terms of their numbers but rather in terms of the (many) influential positions they
occupy or their collective expertise in some specialized domain.
A frequent error is to compare an INGO budget with that of some other organization
operating with generous overheads, and a large support staff on an international payscale.
This compares potential, but not actual ability to focus effectively on a problem. Another
error is to generalize about INGOs without examining INGOs with clearcut operations as
distinct from those with correspondence secretariats only.
An INGO's effectiveness, whatever the quantitative conclusions, may be primarily
determined by its critical relationship to other bodies in a network.
'Insignificant' organizations may be very important communication centres in a
network. The notion of effectiveness is a very Western managerial concept of questionable
relevance to some organizations concerned with relations between people and exchange of
experience. The relation between the effectiveness of an organization and its right to
exist is surely determined by its ability to continue to attract members and not by some
externally imposed criteria.
4. IGO divisive response to INGO action
Problem: The major formal link between the main IGOs and INGOs is through the
consultative status relationship. This is specific to each IGO which encourages the
formation of standing conferences and associated committees for those INGOs linked to it
in this way and discourages links between 'its' group of INGOs and the groups
linked to other IGOs despite the fact that a) many INGOs are linked to more than one IGO
and b) the matters discussed by one such INGO group and its committees may also be
discussed by another (reflecting the overlap in IGO programme areas). The INGO community
is thus fragmented by the divisive posture of IGOs with a consultative relationship, even
though the majority of such bodies are Specialized Agencies of the UN system.
Remark: A special feature of this problem is that its continued existence is
ensured by a) the status tokens accorded by the IGOs to the individuals with formal
positions in such INGO groups, b) the services supplied to the INGO grouping, which
effectively prevent excessive criticism of the IGO from such groupings, and c) the efforts
by IGO secretariat personnel to maintain the fiction of some 25 years standing that
supportive resolutions by the INGO grouping will accomplish more than any critical action.
The irony of the situation is that the IGOs do not even formally recognize the existence
of such INGO groupings and only relate to them through their office-holders. Clearly
formal recognition of such INGO groupings would imply the existence of a well-formed
international group which would pose questions of principle which it is more convenient
for IGOs to avoid (whilst at the same time implying that INGOs are ineffective because
they do not form viable inter-INGO confederations).
5. Lack of co-ordination between INGOs
Problem: Irrespective of whether INGOs duplicate each others' activity (see
point 6), INGOs with complementary programmes, preoccupations, common positions, or common
operational problems have considerable difficulty in linking together in some co-ordinated
activity of other than a token nature. The absence of powerful inter-INGO federations with
a common position considerably weakens their ability to act under certain circumstances
and makes it easy to out-manoeuver their separate actions and difficult to support their
common position. Remark: This condition is however also characteristic of IGOs and
particularly the Agencies of the UN system and is in fact a general problem of our times.
But why should it be expected that INGOs should group together in this way ? In whose
interest are such groupings at a time when there is pressure for functional and regional
decentralization? More seriously, it is questionable whether the organizational models for
such confederations are adequate to the complexity of the pressures which they are
expected to bring into focus and reconcile
6. Duplication of INGO activity
Problem: In a significant number of cases, more than one INGO may be concerned
with the same subject or problem area, or may have membership links with the same range of
organizations, or may solicit funds from the same range of bodies. Such duplication may be
accompanied by a total lack of co-ordination between the INGOs in question (see point 5).
This situation may be considered a waste of resources calling for rationalization and
Remark: There are many reasons for such apparent duplication, including
ideological and political differences (e.g. INGO trade unions), methodological differences
(e.g. INGOs corresponding to different schools of psychology and psychoanalysis),
geographical location (e.g. when the INGOs are effectively regionally oriented and based),
historical circumstances, personality differences, etc. Again, however, this condition is
characteristic of all organizations at this time. (It is reputed that there are over 30
bodies within the UN family responsible for inter-Agency co-ordination.) Thus, although
duplication may be a criticism of organization in general, it is not specific to NGOs. In
addition, research on research and innovation has shown that duplication is in fact
beneficial in some instances.
7. Establishment-orientation of INGOs
Problem: The well-established INGOs tend to 'freeze out' people with
new ideas, motivations and organizational goals. Some INGOs may therefore be assessed as
not representing the changing interests of the constituency they claim to represent.
Remark: This reflects a general problem of estrangement from nearly all existing
institutional forms, particularly among young people.
8. Proliferation of INGOs
Problem: The number of INGOs and INGO-like bodies is increasing rapidly. This
increase is perceived by some to be an unnecessary proliferation and a fragmentation of
activity which could better be focused through a limited number of existing bodies. The
number of such bodies makes it difficult for anyone to quickly grasp their nature and
potential and therefore constitutes a discouragement to some forms of participation.
Remark: The increase in the number of bodies is a reality which corresponds to a
felt need on the part of the members which associate in that way, even when they
deliberately choose to duplicate some existing body for political, economic, conceptual or
other reasons. It is difficult to imagine some legislation or regulation to reduce the
number of INGOs and the society in which it could be effectively implemented. It is
strange that it is acceptable to recognize the existence of 4,000 million individuals, but
we are uncomfortable if the number of organizations representing them exceeds a few
9. Incompatibility of functionally equivalent INGO members
Problem: In the case of some INGOs working across different social systems, the
functional equivalents of national organizations may have different relationships to
governments particularly with regard to the degree of governmental control, funding, and
staffing. National sections in different countries may perform ranges of functions that
only partially overlap such that the non-overlapping features tend to result in suspicion
and incompatibilities which probably lead some governments to hesitate in facilitating
interaction between their national organizations and the equivalent INGOs. In particular,
in some non-Western cultures there may be difficulty in locating organizational forms
natural to that culture which could relate to a given INGO. There may be resentment of any
imposition of a new Western style organization, and a lack of any socio-anthropological
skill to match very different styles of organization, or to create or adapt an INGO
appropriate to them.
10. Lack of awareness of inter- organizational linkages
Problem: Within an INGO, whether the secretariat or the membership, there may be
little general awareness of the INGOs, or IGOs, to which the organization is linked.
Responsibility for such linkages may be limited to one person who may well treat such
linkages as a private domain especially when the number of such linkages makes the overall
situation somewhat difficult to grasp.
11. Lack of identity of INGO network
Problem: INGOs individually, or in small groups with closely related concerns,
tend to conceive of themselves as operating in an international vacuum. They are
consequently surprised to find at some stage that there are other organizations with
similar programmes or common problems, or whose programmes are in some way affected by
their own. There is only a vague sense of identity with an 'international
community' and little general understanding of the elements and linkages constituting
the inter-organizational network on which that sense of community is based.
12. Lack of national awareness of international linkages to INGOs
Problem: Amongst the membership of a national NGO which is a member of an INGO
there tends to be little awareness of the INGO activity, particularly when the NGO is a
member of more than one INGO. Within the national NGO, responsibility for such linkages
may be limited to one person, so that there will be little awareness of its significance.
There is even a tendency for some national-level leaders to monopolize such contacts, or
to fail to relate international co-operation to the activities and problems of rank and
13. Weakness of membership link to INGOs
Problem: It may be difficult for the INGO secretariat to stimulate its members
to more than token interest in its programmes, particularly when these are internationally
oriented, and especially when communications pass via a regional secretariat of the INGO.
It is therefore also difficult to allocate significant resources to international
14. INGO naivety
Problem: INGO representation and activity is occasionally assessed as naive
because of the lack of sophistication or qualification of those involved. Typically this
assessment is made in the light of INGO representation to delegates at intergovernmental
meetings or to staff members of IGO secretariats. It contributes to the negative image of
INGOs in general (see point 3) and is reinforced by it, even in cases where there is no
objective basis for any such assessment. It is particularly unfortunate when powerful
INGOs enter into relationships with intergovernmental agencies (under category A or I
consultative status) in which it is of benefit to them to label other INGOs as naive in
order to reinforce their own position.
Remark: 1. It is only too easy to accuse a body of naivety when it seeks with
inadequate personnel and resources to defend some subtle human value ignored by some
well-supported agencies pursuing a politically non-controversial programme. Concern with
peace and disarmament in the midst of an arms race is surely naive. Concern with the
protection of some species threatened by industrial development is also surely naive. As
is concern with the rights of a minority group neglected by a democratic majority. The
creation of an International Astronautical Federation in 1950 could only be considered
naive by the majority of the academic and intergovernmental community, as must be the
recent concern expressed within the International Astronomical Union that attempts to send
radio messages to distant planetary systems might attract unwelcome (rather than welcome)
2. The irony of the assessment of INGOs as naive is that more often than not it is a
reflection on the assessor rather than the assessed. When an IGO representative complains
that the INGOs that make contact with him (or come to his meetings) are naive, he may even
be correct. Intergovernmental agencies have set up such an unfruitful environment for
contact with INGOs that many INGOs and their representatives avoid such contact because
there are more effective forms of action, those that do not either have special
introductions (and are therefore labelled 'effective') or are in the process of
learning what a waste of time such contacts may be. The latter group may perhaps be
legitimately labelled as naive, although the assessment is about as useful as labelling a
high school student as naive before he has graduated.
15. Inadequate INGO response to IGO preoccupations
Problem: INGOs are frequently perceived as unenthusiastic in response to IGO
calls for action on some new issue and as such are viewed as less than satisfactory
partners. Associated with this is the view that INGOs have been slow in adapting
themselves to the many changes in the membership, attitudes and practices of lGOs such as
Remark: Many of the most important INGOs were established long before the UN (or
even the League of Nations) with aims and objectives of their own, not all of which have
yet been accepted by the UN. Many have had a more universal membership than the UN in
various stages of its development. Whilst they are prepared to pursue objectives in
partnership with the UN, when these objectives are shared, they are quite prepared to
pursue others on their own until IGOs come to recognize their validity.
16. Locating fund sources for INGOs
Problem: INGOs should be able to use an information system to locate
individuals, foundations and governmental programmes interested in making funds available
to INGOs in specific programme areas rather than depend on chance contact as at present.
Similarly the information system should permit the INGOs to be located by such bodies.
The time taken for communication to be established should be reduced to a matter of
days or, in the case of natural disaster, to hours.
17. Locating channels for distribution of INGO programme funds
Problem: Similarly, INGOs should be able to use an information system to locate
the most appropriate international and national bodies through which to make available
funds for a specific programme. As above, in the case of natural disaster, the time for
communication to be established should be reduced to hours.
18. INGO Fund distribution
Problem: INGOs should be able to overcome the difficulty whereby funds are voted
every two or more years for programmes which may become irrelevant during that period in
comparison with the need for new programmes adapted to newly detected problems in the
INGOs' domain. Flexible fund allocation and distribution techniques developed from the
programme planning and budgeting system (PPBS) should permit rapid and continuous
modification and funding of programmes in response to new problems as they evolve.
19. Obstacles to lNGO fund transfers
Problem: INGOs should be able to reduce the current crude and expensive exchange
of correspondence which occurs before a potential member or supporter transfers funds for
dues or in support of a particular programme. Each action of the INGO reported through the
information system should result in automatic fund transfers from supporters to the INGO's
account (and from there to programme accounts). It is to be remarked that despite the
controversy, multinational enterprises are able to make such transfers with ease for
profit-making ends, although such facilities lack for organizations with social or
20. Absence of INGO policy in regional IGOs
Problem: Regional IGOs, particularly for the developing countries, tend not to
recognize INGOs (whether regional or not) and have no policy to associate them in any
programme activity or facilitate regional INGO activity. This reinforces the communication
gap between IGOs and INGOs.
21. Non-facilitative policy of IGO secretariats
Problem: The major IGOs have specific mandates which tend to de-emphasize any
need to relate to other organizations, whether IGO or INGO, having related programme
concerns. As a result, little attention, if any, is given by them to the importance of
improving the inter-organizational structure focussing on a network of related problems.
Where outside contacts are made by the IGO, they are made because a project can best be
completed by a specific INGO, for example. The possibility that by facilitating the
development and operation on the INGO network as a whole it might not even be necessary
for the IGO to initiate many of the specific projects, is not considered.
Remark: It is of course a characteristic of all organizations to wish to
undertake projects for which it can obtain immediate credit, rather than projects which
ensure that other bodies undertake whatever tasks appear necessary. At the present time
there is insufficient consensus within IGOs for any policy change to remedy this. This
applies particularly to the relations between bodies within the United Nations system,
- within different divisions of a particular secretariat (e.g. Office of Public
Information or NGO Liaison Section);
- between bodies reporting to the UN General Assembly (e.g. ECOSOC and UNDP);
- between bodies reporting to different plenary bodies, despite ECOSOC's mandate to review
such relationships (e.g. FAO and UNESCO).
22. Absence of national NGOs in some countries
Problem: Many of the newly independent countries are naturally characterized by
a poorly developed organizational infra-structure. Priority is given to development of
government agencies and productive enterprises. The creation of non-governmental,
nonprofit bodies therefore poses a special problem, both as a distraction and a drain on
scarce resources, and as a possible focus for dissent threatening the stability of the
government. Such bodies are therefore deliberately created by government for political
ends or, if independent of government, are viewed with suspicion if they are permitted to
exist at all. This situation makes it difficult for non-governmental representatives of
the country to relate to INGOs.
23. Diversity of INGO organizational forms and interests
Problem: INGOs do not conform to a limited range of organiz- ational models.
They are in fact characterized by a wide variety of forms. This reduces ability to
understand them and consequently reduces their credibility. Furthermore the fact that the
interests of INGOs do not always correspond to the priorities currently in fashion in the
major intergovernmental agencies is considered to be an indication of their irrelevance.
Remark: With regard to the form, why is it assumed that there should not be a
wide variety of organizational forms ? Is it not important to seek innovation of
organizational forms ? With regard to areas of interest, who is to say that a seemingly
irrelevant INGO today should not be relevant tomorrow. (The best example is the existence
of environmental INGOs several decades before the UN Stockholm conference on the human
environment in 1972.)
24. Supposed similarity of INGOs to multinational corporations
Problem: There is still considerable confusion within the inter- national
community concerning the range of organizations embodying the negative characteristics
associated with 'multinational corporations', now called 'transnational
corporations' by the UN to help clarify the matter. For those individuals or
societies unfamiliar with INGOs, they are often considered as being identical to
multinationals or as having similar characteristics. This confusion is reinforced by the
lack of development of adequate distinctions in some other languages (including French,
for example). Clearly in many countries this confusion, and the emphasis given to the
negative impact of multinationals, constitute a considerable barrier to the development of
participation in INGO activity.
Remark: The situation is further confused by the fact that both types of
organization are 'international' and 'non- governmental' The UN
Charter does not distinguish under Article 71, governing its relationship to
'NGOs', between profit-making and non-profitmaking and may by forced to relate
to multinationals under the procedures developed for INGOs. Further confusion is generated
by the class of INGOs which are international trade and manu- facturing associations.
Clearly this category is closely related in operation to multinationals and to cartels,
although in form it may be an entirely legitimate non-profit association (since only its
members are specifically profit-oriented).
25. Non-representativity of INGOs
Problem: Many non-governmental organizations are considered to be
unrepresentative, namely when all the member countries and regions of the UN are not
represented in them. As such they are not considered adequate vehicles for the formulation
of impartial policy oriented to the interests of those most in need.
Remark: It is vital to make some distinctions here:
- Firstly, African, European, Asian and other such regional organizations by definition do
not have representatives from other regions. Is it useful to question the right to exist
of such bodies or the value of their activity ? The fact that there are more such bodies
in Europe is a reality resulting from the relative degree of economic and social
development of Europe.
- Secondly, there is a functional distinction. Is it realistic to expect that the African
continent should be well represented in the International Association for Arctic
- Thirdly, there is a distinction linked directly to the presence or absence of national
counterparts in some countries due to the relative degree of economic and social
development. Is it realistic to expect the Comores to be represented in the International
Association for the Computer-assisted Study of Ancient Languages ?
- Fourthly, there is the non-representativity forced upon organizations by the problems of
communication and transport between distant points on the surface of the planet. Is it
reasonable for a national body to allocate funds (possibly equal to or in excess of its
own annual budget) to the cost of transporting its representatives to the distant meetings
of an international body and this problem arises whether the meeting is in a developing
country or in Europe, and whether the national body is based on a developed economy or
not. At a time when travel costs are increasing rapidly and subsidies are increasingly
hard to obtain, it is therefore natural that the viability of regional bodies may in many
cases be greater than that of multi-continent organizations to say nothing of the effect
of increasing postage costs and the 8 week or more delivery time for inter-continental
surface mail. An argument which ignores these problems, particularly when nothing is done
to alleviate their effects by direct or indirect subsidy, cannot be taken very seriously.
26. Western-based INGO secretariats
Problem: Statistics on the location of INGO headquarters show that a high
proportion are located in Europe and North America. Because of the political significance
attached to the geographical location of INGO offices, this leads to criticism that INGOs
are primarily West-oriented, partisan, and therefore suspect.
Remark: This condition is also characteristic of IGOs. It is in fact linked to
the relative degree of development of the different continents and to the associated
problems and costs of communication and transport between them. It should never be
forgotten that the travel costs and times between many developing countries and Europe are
in fact less than those between neighbouring developing countries.
The unsatisfactory asymmetry is in fact a consequence of the development problem with
which many of the INGOs are con- cerned. It is also linked to the considerable legal
problems of establishing such organizations in non-Western countries.
27. INGO use of Western-based organizational models
Problem: Most INGOs are organized in terms of what can be termed a Western
concept of organization. Such organizations, wherever they are based, then appear to be
transplants which are not natural or meaningful in non-Western societies. As such they are
easily suspect and subject to criticism, thus deterring full contact with them.
Remark: Agreed it would be valuable to make use of non- Western models of
organization at the transnational level. The problem is that such models have not yet been
sufficiently developed. Even regional organizations in African, Asian and Arab countries
tend to be elaborations of the Western model rather than alternative models.
It is to be noted that national governmental agencies in devel- oping countries, for
example, are largely based on Western models, for lack of anything better. It is
questionable whether the organizational concept used in Eastern socialist countries is
sufficiently distinct from the Western model to escape such criticism. (To put matters in
perspective, it is useful to look at the equivalent technological problem. The design of
airplanes is governed by principles elaborated in developed countries. Whilst it would be
delightful to travel in an intercontinental airplane designed in a developing country,
there are none. Is this to mean that those designed in developed countries should not be
used in developing countries?)
28. Treatment of INGOs as an administrative problem
Problem: For some intergovernmental agencies, the number of INGOs which are in
some way engaged in activities relevant to their own programmes constitutes an
administrative, or even political, problem. As such, efforts are made to limit contact
with them in order to simplify the already difficult tasks of operating the agency.
Clearly this determines the attitude of IGO secretariat personnel and delegates and the
content of the policy recommendations and documents that they generate for national
governments. It restricts the number of linkages between IGOs and INGOs and prevents IGOs
and governments from recognizing the potential of the INGO network and the manner in which
its activities can be facilitated and the consequent benefits for governmental programmes.
Remark: The inability of such agencies to recognize that INGOs are first and
foremost a social phenomenon and only incidentally an administrative problem is an
indication of the ability of such agencies to comprehend the nature of the international
community within which they attempt to function (e.g. the inability of UNESCO to recognize
the usefulness of social studies of national and international INGOs, after 30 years of
consultative relationship with them through a designated administrative unit.)
29. Inadequate facilities for INGOs
Problem: Most INGOs require the same basic administrative services and
facilities, but because of their restricted budgets, they are forced to use minimum
facilities, which are often inadequate and insufficient. Because of great sensitivity to
their independence and autonomy of their programme, they are reluctant to pool services
and facilities in order to increase the efficiency of their administrative operations.
This is partly due to an inability to distinguish between the objectives of the
organization and the facilities and professional skills required to achieve them.
Whether in capital cities of developing or developed countries, the offices of
international non-governmental organizations are usually scattered so that face-to-face
contact between organization staff members is infrequent. Organizations are often poorly
housed and equipped. A 'critical mass' is not built up.
30. Inadequate statistical data on INGOs
Problem: No attempt has been made, or formally recommended, to collect
statistical data on INGOs and their members. Although data is collected on individuals
(via the census), commercial bodies, and each nation, none is collected on the bodies
through which individuals express themselves or via which their views are molded. As a
consequence, attention is switched to socioeconomic considerations and away from the
variety of concerns represented by INGOs and their members
Remark: This is particularly evident in the statistical data published in the
various yearbooks of the UN system. Typically the ILO Yearbook of Labour Statistics has no
details about trade unions, despite the amount of aggregated data on employees. The data
on INGOs published in the Yearbook of International Organizations does not extend beyond
INGOs as such in order to show the amount of national organization from which such
international activity emerges. The absence of such data prevents its consideration as
part of any battery of social indicators, given that it may be argued that the degree of
organization of a society is an important measure of social development
31. Social recognition of INGOs
Problem: The nature and existence of INGOs is poorly under- stood as a
phenomenon, if at all, despite their number and the wide variety of their activities. As a
consequence, INGOs as a category are easily ignored. Alternatively, and with the
connivance of the implicated INGOs, certain types of INGO receive special treatment (e.g.
trade unions, scientific organizations, etc.) as being 'more important'.
Remark: INGOs collectively do not consider this problem to be important,
preferring to publicize themselves directly and individually to their potential contacts.
IGOs, where they are concerned with international understanding and comprehension of the
international system (e.g. UNESCO, or UN Office of Public Information) devote their
resources to publicizing the IGO system to which they are linked. This policy is reflected
in the documents they produce. For it is difficult, via the IGO system, to gain knowledge
of the existence or activities of the INGO system. To the extent that IGO materials are a
basis for academic study, education, and public affairs programmes, attention is thus
effectively diverted away from INGOs. This is even the case with the well-developed INGO
network of United Nations Associations, which views the international system as composed
of UN IGOs plus UNAs.
32. National legal status of INGOs
Problem: The establishment of an INGO secretariat and associated staff, or the
holding of a conference, or the organization of > (field-level) programme, or the
maintenance of membership ties in a particular country, are not governed and protected by
national legislation recognizing the special character of INGOs (the only exception being
Belgium.) The INGO is obliged to register itself as a national organization of that
country or a 'foreign' association, if it is permitted to establish itself at
all. Many obstacles are thus created to INGO activity, particularly in the Eastern bloc
and developing countries. This is a major obstacle to (a) increasing the
representativeness of INGO membership and to (b) ensuring that more INGOs have their
headquarters or secretariats outside the North-West group of countries whose legislation
is somewhat more open to association activity.
Remark: An interesting case in point is that of Kenya following the
establishment of UNEP in Nairobi. Considerable difficulties were experienced by
environmental INGOs wishing to establish offices or headquarters there, even the NGO
Environmental Liaison Board which had the full support of UNEP. It is also interesting to
note how carefully trade unions dissociate themselves from other INGOs on this point
because their 'freedom of association' is the concern of a special ILO
33. Status of INGO personnel
Problem: No convention or other arrangement exists to protect the status of INGO
personnel (except in Belgium). This means that those who work for INGOs must be prepared
to face bureaucratic obstacles of every kind (a) in attempting to work in the headquarters
offices, (b) in field-level work, (c) in travel on INGO business. In addition, social
security provisions are such that INGO employees may be unable to ensure continuity of
social security benefits and pension rights on return to their country of origin or when
they move to some third country. Payment of pension or life insurance may be blocked by
currency regulations. Clearly this ensures that only nationals of the secretariat country
can afford to spend career time with an INGO, or else people who are prepared to take the
risk of forgoing such benefits. As a consequence this may have considerable implications
for the INGOs ability to attract qualified personnel and guarantee their job security.
Remark: The significance of this problem becomes evident for the work of INGOs
when the state of IGO personnel rights and privileges and immunities is considered. Such
privileges are held to be essential in order to maintain an adequate international staff.
They cover items such as: travel documents, residential requirements, tax exemption, in
addition to social security and pension rights. In addition to generous fringe benefits,
IGO personnel also receive salaries considerably in excess of local salaries to compensate
them for the inconvenience for having to work away from their country of origin.
34. International legal status of INGOs
Problem: INGOs have no legal status within the framework of international law.
They are therefore not recognized as having any international 'existence' in a
legal sense, with the conse- quence that any governmental or scholarly attention which
depends on such recognition is absent. The absence of such legislation ensures that INGOs
are unprotected (as 'outlaws') and do not operate within anything but a
self-imposed code of responsibilities. Their activities are not aided by facilitative
arrangements, as is the case with the international activities of commercial enterprises.
The absence of such legislation deprives national governments of any stimulus to generate
national legislation to accommodate INGOs based in a particular country (see above). Since
they are not recognized internationally, some countries view with great suspicion the
participation of their nationals or national groups as members of such bodies. There is
also suspicion concerning the (field-level) programmes of such INGOs in a particular
country, which may be construed as interference in internal affairs or as a cover for
politically subversive activity.
Remark: This question was first studied in detail by a Commission on the Legal
Status of International Associations of the Institute of International Law in 1910. The
Commission's report was presented by N. Politis at its Brussels, 50th anniversary, session
in 1923. The text of a draft convention on the legal status of international associations
was approved unanimously at that session and revised at a 1950 session. (1) Another early
important step taken by The Hague Conference on Private International Law resulted in the
adoption in 1956 of a Convention concerning the legal recognition of societies,
associations and foreign foundations. This has only been ratified by five of the
Conference Member States. In addition it only covers the recognition not the activity of
The text of the Convention is also published as an annex to the Yearbook of
International Organizations. The Union of International Associations, after consultation
with appropriate experts, submitted to the Director General of Unesco in May 1959 a text
for a 'Draft Convention aiming at facilitating the work of International
Non-governmental Organizations'. This initiative only resulted in some changes to
customs regulations governing the movement of INGO goods, primarily publications and
international conference materials.
Some studies have since been undertaken by FAO resulting in an investigation in 1969 by
the Council of Europe with a view to the preparation of a European Convention. This
initiative appears to have been abandoned
Recent parallel events include work within the European Community to formulate
legislation for a 'European (profit making) corporation'. The Committee on Trade
Union Rights of the International Labour Conference (1970) identified a number of rights.
The ILO Governing Body instructed the Director General to 'undertake further
comprehensive studies and to prepare reports on law and practice' in relation to
(1) See: Draft convention relating to the legal position of international
associations. In: The Open Society of the Future. Brussels, Union of
International Associations, 1973, pp.139-147.