United Nations Economic and Social Council

Background Information about the Council

ECOSOC was established under the United Nations Charter as the principal organ to coordinate economic, social, and related work of the 14 UN specialized agencies, functional commissions and five regional commissions. The Council also receives reports from 11 UN funds and programmes. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) serves as the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues, and for formulating policy recommendations addressed to Member States and the United Nations system. It is responsible for:

  • promoting higher standards of living, full employment, and economic and social progress;
  • identifying solutions to international economic, social and health problems;
  • facilitating international cultural and educational cooperation; and
  • encouraging universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It has the power to make or initiate studies and reports on these issues. It also has the power to assist the preparations and organization of major international conferences in the economic and social and related fields and to facilitate a coordinated follow-up to these conferences. With its broad mandate the Council’s purview extends to over 70 per cent of the human and financial resources of the entire UN system.

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Picture of the first session of the ECOSOC at Church House in London, 23 January 1946. This picture shows Mr. Gladwyn Jebb (right), Executive Secretary of the United Nations, congratulating Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar of India upon his election as first President of ECOSOC.

ECOSOC at Work:

In carrying out its mandate, ECOSOC consults with academics, business sector representatives and more than 2,100 registered non-governmental organizations. The Council holds a four-week substantive session each July, alternating between New York and Geneva . The session consists of the High-level Segment, Coordination Segment, Operational Activities Segment, Humanitarian Affairs Segment and the General Segment.

The High-level segment serves as a forum for Ministers and executive heads of international institutions and high-ranking officials, as well as civil society and private sector representatives to discuss key issues on the international agenda in the area of economic, social and environmental development. A new feature of the ECOSOC, mandated by the 2005 World Summit, are the Annual Ministerial Review and the Development Cooperation Forum ,. At the end of the High-level segment, a Ministerial declaration is adopted, which provides policy guidance and recommendations for action.

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ECOSOC events are organized in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. This room was a gift from Sweden. It was conceived by the Swedish architect Sven Markelius, one of the 11 architects in the international team that designed the United Nations Headquarters.

ECOSOC has taken a lead role in key policy areas in recent years:

  • The 2007 High-level Segment marked the first Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) and the launch of the Development Cooperation Forum (DCF). During the Annual Ministerial Review, t he Council reviewed progress towards the implementation of MDG1, including through the national voluntary presentations by six developing countries, namely, Bangladesh, Barbados, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Ethiopia and Ghana. With the adoption of the ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to strive for the eradication of poverty and hunger by the agreed target date of 2015.

  • The 2006 High-level Segment focused on the issues of full and productive employment and decent work, and its impact on the sustainable development. The ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration of 2006 identified a number of concrete steps for further implementation of the 2005 World Summit to make full and productive employment and decent work a central objective of national and international policies.

  • The 2005 High-level Segment, together with the coordination segment, constituted a major input to the 2005 World Summit on the progress made in the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, including the internationally agreed development goals and the global partnership required for their achievement.

  • The 2004 High-level Segment focused on Least Developed Countries and resources mobilization and an enabling environment for poverty eradication. The High-level Dialogue of the Council helped to highlight the specific problems of LDCs. It also led to the launch of a rural initiative in Benin.

  • The 2003 High-level Segment on the “promotion of an integrated approach to rural development in developing countries for poverty eradication and sustainable development” led to a renewed attention of the issue and the launch of a related initiative on Madagascar.

  • The 2002 High-level Segment adopted an innovative resolution on the contribution of human resources, in particular in the area of health and education, to development.

  • The consideration of African development at the 2001 High-level Segment resulted in the first formal international endorsement of the New Partnership for Africa ‘s Development (NEPAD).

  • The Ministerial Declaration of the High-level Segment in 2000 proposed specific actions to address the digital divide, leading directly to the formation in 2001 of the ICT [Information and Communication Technologies] Task Force.

  • The 1999 High-level segment issued a “Manifesto on Poverty” which, in many respects, anticipated the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals that were approved at the UN Millennium Summit in New York .

Apart from the substantive sessions, ECOSOC initiated in 1998 a tradition of meeting each April with finance ministers heading key committees of the Bretton Woods institutions. These consultations initiated inter-institutional cooperation that paved the way for the success of the International Conference on Financing for Development, held in March 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico and adopted the Monterrey Consensus. At that conference, ECOSOC was assigned a primary role in monitoring and assessing follow-up to the Monterrey Consensus. These meetings have helped to deepen the dialogue between the United Nations and international financial and trade institutions, and strengthened their partnership for achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development goals which emanated from the global conferences since the mid-nineties. Participation in the meetings has broadened since the initial meeting in 1998. In addition to the chairperson of the Development Committee of the World Bank and the chairperson of the International Monetary and Financial Committee of the International Monetary Fund, the General Council of the World Trade Organization and the Trade and Development Board of UNCTAD are now also participating in the meeting.

ECOSOC Reform – Strengthening the Council

Since the establishment of the United Nations (UN) in 1945, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has been subject to over a dozen proposals for reforms. Some of those proposals have been acted upon, as was the case with General Assembly Resolutions 32/197 and 50/227, both of which responded to proposals prepared by groups of experts in 1975 and 1988, respectively. The reforms have resulted in an expanded membership and new procedures to increase ECOSOC’s effectiveness.

In recent years there has been mounting international support for strengthening the role of ECOSOC both within the UN system of governance and in the governance of the global economy. Another round of important reforms was launched during the 57th General Assembly with the establishment of the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Coordinated and Integrated Implementation of and Follow-Up to the major UN conferences and summits which led to the adoption of General Assembly resolution 57/270B. The resolution entrusted ECOSOC and its subsidiary organs with an important role in the integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow up to the outcomes of the major UN conferences and summits of the 1990s.

Despite the progress made over the last years in enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of ECOSOC and in strengthening ECOSOC as a central body of UN system coordination, there continued to be calls for a further strengthening of ECOSOC. At the 2005 World Summit heads of State and government have responded to this call. In paragraph 155 and 156 of the World Summit outcome document they called both for further strengthening of ECOSOC’s existing functions and strengthening ECOSOC by entrusting it with important new functions.

In particular, in paragraph 155 and 156 of the World Summit outcome document World Leaders mandated ECOSOC, inter alia :

  • To serve as a quality platform of engagement on global policies and trends in the economic, social, environmental and humanitarian field and to hold a biennial Development Cooperation Forum to review trends in international development co-operation.

In follow-up to the summit, the General Assembly adopted resolution 61/16 on the “Strengthening of the Economic and Social Council” on 20 November 2006, as a result of informal consultations of the Plenary under the chairmanship of H.E. Ambassador Johan C. Verbeke of Belgium and H.E. Ambassador Cheick Sidi Diarra of Mali. Five key elements of the resolution are:

  • It set the stage for the AMR which reviews the progress made in the implementation of the UN Development Agenda, including the Millennium Development Goals.

  • It also mandates ECOSOC to hold a biennial DCF to review trends and progress in international development cooperation, i.e., issues of aid quality and quantity, and give policy guidance on practical measures and policy options on how to enhance its coherence and effectiveness.

  • The 2007 ECOSOC substantive session in Geneva in July marked the first AMR and the launch of the biennial Development Cooperation Forum . Subsequently, starting in 2008, the DCF will be held biennially in New York .

  • The Council has also been given the mandate to convene ad-hoc meetings on humanitarian emergencies as and when they are requested.

Immediately following the adoption of the General Assembly resolution, the Council adopted decision E/2006/274 which provides further details on the modalities of involvement of ECOSOC’s subsidiary machinery in the preparation of the first 2007 Annual Ministerial substantive Review (AMR) and Development Cooperation Forum (DCF). Agreement on a comprehensive ECOSOC reform resolution by the Economic and Social Council, which is expected to elaborate further on resolution 61/ 16 and ECOSOC decision 2006/206 regarding the adaptation of its working methods is still pending.

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