International Organizations Potentially In Your Business

By Thomas W. Welch, J.D., American International Regulatory Coherence Institute

Unlike most academic websites and journals reporting on developments and theory in international law (which have recently been focused on drone killings, human rights litigation, and international trials of rich, African dictators), this monthly blog tries to succinctly address practical topics of potential interest to normal folk trying to make a living. After all, it is growth in international business and trade that must actually pay the billions in taxes, tariffs and tuitions that go to fund the millions of salaries, articles and exotic conferences that all those professors, judges and government officials involved in messy, but sexy, ‘foreign relations‘ enjoy.

A basic appreciation for the many hundreds of thousands now well-employed in so-called “International Organizations” (IOs) are becoming particularly important, if for no other reason than to understand where all that tax money is going.   After all, all enterprises must assess which organizational components are indeed critical, and how to distinguish them from those which are perhaps becoming a burden to sustainable, economic growth. A survey of a few, recent IO reports are instructive.

Most press reported, for example, that the Norwegian Nobel Committee recently selected the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. But what is the OPCW, and how much does it cost?  The OPCW is technically an “intergovernmental organization,” located in The HagueNetherlands, set up by an important, but controversial treaty, the (1997) U.N. Chemical Weapons Convention, which purportedly prohibits all use of chemical weapons and requires their destruction. Unfortunately, the treaty is so broad, it includes so-called “dual use” chemicals used by many businesses.  OPCW has a Staff of 500, who are supposed to verify voluntary declarations by member states and conduct on-site inspections all over the world, such as recently demanded by the UN Security Council in Syria.  The last reported (2012) OPCW budget totalled $95.4 million, of which $45 million was for verification costs and $50.2 million for administrative and other costs. Like many other IOs, the Staff have been handicapped for years by budgetary limitations, obstruction, obfuscation and outright refusals (six UN states, Angola, Burma, Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan, are still not parties to the treaty).  In fact, the OPCW reportedly only has funding to operate till the end of this month.  As you might imagine, strong OPCW supporters, (like the nervous neighbors of Russia, the Norwegian Nobel Committee and the Dutch), seek more sustainable funding for the OPCW from other members so that it can achieve its intended goal of global chemical disarmament.   Skeptics and so-called “realists,”  however, doubt that universal chemical disarmament, like nuclear disarmament, is actually, remotely achievable.   Entirely separate IOs in Geneva, Switzerland have been attempting to conduct meaningful inspections of nuclear and biological weapons for years with even less success.

Other IOs are increasingly concerned with “dual use” by industry.  For example, the U.S. and several other countries just ratified (curiously bypassing the U.S. Senate) the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which seeks to ban many (but not all)  industrial uses or production of that element.  That regulation will be spearheaded by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) staff, who are also seeking to regulate lead, cadmium, the climate, and many other substances currently used by businesses. UNEP’s proposed budget for 2014-15 will be $ 631 million, employing some 854 full time staff.

Another well known IO whose sustained funding is of broad concern is the UN Office For Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  OCHA has over 30 offices around the world, and some 1,900 specialized and dedicated Staff to perform humanitarian aid missions, alongside many private groups, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  As the recent ‘super-storm’ recovery efforts in the U.S. (Hurricane Sandy) the Philippines (typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)) contrastingly demonstrate, however, many countries in the world lack preparative capacity to handle disasters on their own, and their burgeoning populations now chronically need outside aid.  To their additional credit, the UN and ICRC have also attempted to facilitate their operations with legal rules of “customary international humanitarian law,”  that can assist with civil war operations, and help to reduce the spread of armed conflict.  But a recent UN report reflects a need for significant improvements to improve coordination and accounting between multifarious humanitarian aid IOs.

Far less reported are the activities of a particularly controversial IO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), whose laudable, intended purpose is to promote international collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the UN Charter. UNESCO, headquartered in Paris, France, has been the subject of dueling political commentary (here) in the US recently, after UNESCO suspended the voting rights of the US and Israel, two years after both countries stopped paying dues to this so-called, “U.N. cultural arm” to protest its granting full membership to the Palestinians.  The US had previously withdrawn from UNESCO, due to disagreements with its many activities, and their recent initiatives with certain US city Mayors have also been controversial.  UNESCO’s 2012–2013 budget reportedly devotes over 82 percent of all resources to overall staff costs (including temporary assistance and contracted services), travel, and general operating expenses.  More than 2,000 personnel from 170 countries work for UNESCO; approximately 870 staff work in the organization’s 65 field offices and institutes worldwide.

Also far less reported is that UN staff have also been seeking to directly influence business management through the UN Global Compact Initiative and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.     A “Leaders Summit” was just held in New York, where some Government and Business leaders debated obligations that all international business should undertake.  In fact, while the new, Post-2015 Business Engagement Architecture seeks only to persuade global businesses to advance environmental policies and support human rights in their operations, NGO activists are now seeking to make UN Global Compact and Principles compliance, especially for certain “core” human rights, mandatory for large businesses in several countries after 2015. Recent legislative Corporate Social Responsibility mandates have already been passed in California and India, so compulsory compliance responsibilities, particularly for large enterprises, are already beginning.  These business mandates are supported by full and part time Staff and consultants in six separate UN agencies: UNEP; the United Nations Human Rights Council; the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; the International Labor Organization; the United Nations Development Programme; the United Nations Industrial Development Organization; and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  Total staff and budgets are difficult to accurately ascertain.

Given this, often contentious history with some IOs, there are also future concerns about various other UN Staffs and Committees set up to monitor compliance with several other controversial treaties that could also impact businesses, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  An entire “watch” website is devoted to following the activities of the UN Development Program, and recent proposals to fund very ambitious Millennium Development Goals to end poverty in developing nations.  There are many more IOs I could mention, but you get the idea.

In an ideal world, there would be limitless contributions for more, well-intention-ed initiatives from helpful IO staff. Recent comparative studies, such as by Easterly and Williamson, and the UK Government, however, indicate that some changes to increase transparency, and reduce waste are needed.  Competing aid and budgetary priorities must always be considered.   In a real world, difficult choices must eventually be made.

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