The world food situation in the early 1970s was marked by extreme food shortages in many developing countries in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, by a general lack of progress in the world fight against hunger and malnutrition, and by very slow progress in the creation of a system of internationally coordinated cereal reserves to meet crop shortfalls and other abnormal situations.
It was against this background that the General Assembly decided, in 1973, to convene a conference to deal with global food problems. The UN World Food Conference, held in Rome in November 1974, called for the creation of a 36-member ministerial-level World Food Council to review annually major problems and policy issues affecting the world food situation and to bring its political influence to bear on governments and UN bodies and agencies alike.
Each year up through 1992 the WFC met in plenary session at the invitation of one of its member states. The council, as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, reports annually to it through the Economic and Social Council.
At first, the WFC's approach to solving world food problems was to encourage the adoption of national food strategies by developing countries. Under this plan, each country would assess its present food situation, including needs, supply, potential for increasing food production, storage, processing, transport, distribution, marketing, and the ability to meet food emergencies. In the early 1980s, this concept was taken over by the World Bank.
In 1989, at its 15th session held in Cairo, Egypt, the WFC delineated a Programme of Co-operative Action with four main goals for UN member countries within the next decade: the elimination of starvation and death caused by famine; a substantial reduction of malnutrition and mortality among young children; a tangible reduction in chronic hunger; and the elimination of major nutritional-deficiency diseases. The Programme of Co-Operative Action contained proposals for immediate action to be taken on food-for-work programs in rural areas where employment opportunities are not available and measures to make specific food items affordable to the poor. Over the longer term, the WFC recommended projects to create production and employment opportunities in rural and urban areas; community initiative projects designed to enable the communities themselves to identify and implement projects; vocational training schemes; retraining schemes; food stamp schemes. In the area of nutrition, the WFC recommended the implementation on an emergency basis of supplementary feeding programs for children; primary health care programs, including programs to improve sanitation and drinking water; family planning programs; nutritional education programs; and support to food and nutrition programs undertaken by WHO, UNICEF, and other international agencies.
At its 16th session in 1990, held in Bangkok, Thailand, the council observed that most countries had not yet set specific goals and targets to implement its call to action. However, by 1991 those goals had been adopted by all UN member states as part of the International Development Strategy for the Fourth United Nations Development Decade.
The WFC also considered the coordination of the activities of some 35 international agencies that have programs significantly related to hunger problems. The WFC observed that its own role was that of providing a central, undivided focus on hunger and recommended the creation of an inter-secretariat consultative mechanism among the four Rome-based food organizations (FAO, IFAD, WFC, and WFP). In 1991, meeting in Helsingor, Denmark, it reiterated this support. It noted with concern the great financial difficulties facing these international organizations.
The 18th session of the WFC met in 1992 in Nairobi, Kenya. Its report to the General Assembly noted that although most developing regions made some headway during the 1980s in reducing hunger and malnutrition, this was not the case for the peoples of Africa where disastrous droughts and civil disturbances had caused widespread starvation in recent years. The council praised the IFAD Special Programme for Sub-Saharan African Countries Affected by Drought and Desertification. In response to the disastrous problems of Africa, the WFC called for a "New Green Revolution," and the intensified transfer of technology to accomplish such a revolution. It recommended that substantial increases in investments in research, extension, and training were needed, particularly in Africa.
In 1992 the WFC also noted the problems of millions of people in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (formerly the USSR) in gaining access to adequate food as a result of the dislocation of their economies.
In the context of the efforts of the General Assembly to streamline the activities of the United Nations, the WFC considered its future role within the framework of the restructuring process. With disarming frankness, the council stated: "We agree that the council has fallen short of achieving the political leadership and coordination role expected from its founders at the 1974 World Food Conference." It concluded that, in a rapidly changing world, the continuation of the status quo for the World Food Council and the United Nations as a whole was not possible. It established an ad hoc committee to review the mandate and future role of the WFC, which met in New York on 14–15 September 1992 and submitted its report to the 47th Session of the General Assembly (1992). However, the committee could not reach agreement on what the council's future role should be. Views ranged from abolishing it to strengthening it and integrating its mandate with another intergovernmental body. With this the committee referred the matter to the General Assembly, which requested the council members to continue attempts to agree on appropriate measures to be taken. After informal meetings from January to May 1993, the council reported to the General Assembly that "Council members are agreed on a set of principles to guide the United Nations response to global food and hunger problems, but disagreements continue to exist concerning the most effective institutional response to these principles."
In 1993 no formal WFC session was held, nor were any substantive documents prepared by the WFC secretariat. In fact, in December 1993, the secretariat in Rome was abolished as a result of the restructuring of the United Nations. Responsibility for servicing any future meetings of the WFC was given to the newly formed Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD) in New York.
In November 1993 the president of the World Food Council held informal consultations with other WFC ministers of agriculture during the biennial FAO Conference in Rome about the possibility of scheduling the next (19th) session of the council. The consultations were inconclusive and the future of the WFC was not taken up at the General Assembly's 48th regular session in light of these ongoing discussions.
At a General Assembly plenary meeting on 26 May 1996 it was recommended that the World Food Council be discontinued and its functions absorbed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP). To eliminate duplicative and overlapping efforts, this recommendation was heeded and the WFC was dissolved. The move was generally hailed as a sign that the Assembly was rededicating itself to better use of its resources. As the FAO and WFP became heirs to the World Food Council's initiatives, the restructuring was also viewed as a reinforcement of ECOSOC's development-related activities. (For more information on the UN's ongoing work to combat hunger around the globe, please see the chapter on the Food and Agriculture Organization.)
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FOR DEVELOPMENT A major event of the first UN Development Decade was the UN Conference on the Application of Science and Technology for the Benefit of the Less Developed Countries, held in Geneva in 1963. The conference focused world attention on the practical possibilities of accelerating development through the application of advances in science and technology and on the need for reorienting research toward the requirements of the developing countries.
A second conference, the UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development, held in Vienna in 1979, adopted a program of action (the Vienna Programme) designed to put science and technology to work for the economic development of all countries, particularly the developing countries. It recommended the creation by the General Assembly of a high-level intergovernmental committee on science and technology for development, open to all member states, and the establishment of a voluntary fund to be administered by UNDP.
The Geneva Conference was a predominantly technical or pragmatic conference at which developed countries provided developing countries with state-of-the-art reports on developed-country technologies. By contrast, the Vienna Conference reflected the 1970s discussions between developed and developing countries over a more equal access of the latter to the world's science and technology. Thus science and technology were placed within the context of international diplomacy. The result, the Vienna Programme of Action was a compromise that did not fully meet the expectations of the developing countries.
The Vienna Programme of Action was divided into three target areas: strengthening the science and technology capacities of developing countries; restructuring the existing pattern of international scientific and technological relations; and strengthening the role of the UN system in the field of science and technology and the provision of increased financial resources.
Endorsing the recommendations of the Vienna conference, the General Assembly decided to establish an Intergovernmental Committee on Science and Technology for Development (ISTD), to be open to all states, and to create within the UN Secretariat a Center for Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) to provide substantive support to the committee and to coordinate activities within the UN system. In 1982, the General Assembly established the UN Financing System for Science and Technology for Development to finance a broad range of activities intended to strengthen the endogenous scientific and technological capacities of developing countries. In 1986, it transferred the responsibilities and resources of the financing system to a newly created UN Fund for Science and Technology for Development, administered by UNDP. In 1992, this new voluntary fund amounted to US $1.56 million and had funded six policy meetings in Cape Verde, Jamaica, Pakistan, Togo, Uganda, and Vietnam.
In 1989, on the tenth anniversary of the Vienna Conference, the General Assembly expressed its disappointment with the implementation of the Vienna Programme. As part of the effort to rationalize and reform the entire United Nations system, in April 1992, the General Assembly decided to transform the ISTD into a functional commission of ECOSOC, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development. The activities of the Centre for Science and Technology for Development were incorporated into the new Department of Economic and Social Development, within its Division of Science, Technology, Energy, Environment and Natural Resources.
Major objectives of the commission, which held its first session in April 1993, included:
The commission also requested that the Secretary-General prepare proposals to improve the coordination of the different bodies in the UN system, including the World Bank, which are involved in science and technology activities.
Developments, such as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992—which had substantial science and technology components—and changing attitudes within intergovernmental bodies regarding the role of government and the private sector in view of the end of the cold war, led to the need for a major restructuring of the United Nations in the economic and social sector (including science and technology). While the General Assembly confirmed the continued validity of the Vienna Programme of Action in its resolution on science and technology for development in December 1993, its objectives were merged with the Technology Programme of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD thus became responsible for science and technology within the United Nations system. Major program elements of the revised work program include:
The Commission on Science and Technology also decided to adopt themes for study by working groups during the two-year periods between its sessions. For 1993–95, these included technology for small-scale economic activities to address the basic needs of low-income populations, the gender implications of science and technology for developing countries, and the science and technology aspects of work being considered by the Commission on Sustainable Development. The commission also considered studying a variety of other issues, including the role of technology in military conversion, the effect of new and emerging technologies on industrialization, and the role of information technologies in developing countries.
In October 1998, it was recommended that the membership of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, along with three other subsidiaries of the Economic and Social Council, be reconstituted. The commission's membership was subsequently reduced from 53 to 33, with the following geographic distribution: eight members from African states; seven from Asian states; six from Latin America and the Caribbean; four from Eastern Europe; and eight from Western European and other states. The body remains a functional commission of the Council, with members holding office for four years.
At its Fourth Session, held in May 1999 in Geneva, the focus was on science and technology partnerships and networking for national capacity-building; particular attention was paid to bio-technology and energy. During the meeting, the commission discussed the concept of global entitlement to knowledge, the changing role of the state in the development of science and technology, and the role of networking and partnership in a multi-disciplinary approach to science and technology. In summarizing the proceedings, the moderator concluded that since sustainable development can be thought of as composed of economic growth, social equity, and an adequate use of the environment, and since government is viewed as a "key articulator" of these, the role of science and technology in the near future should be to establish reliable frameworks for consistent communication, effective fore-casting, and the dissemination of knowledge.
Since the end of World War II, the role of multinational or transnational corporations in international commerce has been growing, but information on their activities has been fragmentary and often closely held. Many of these corporations are household names. They conduct a large portion of their business outside their host country, often recruiting management from their overseas subsidiaries and recruiting shareholders around the world. Some of these corporations command resources greater than those of most governments represented at the UN. In 1989, estimated sales by foreign affiliates of transnationals worldwide were US $4.5 trillion. In comparison, world exports were only US $3 trillion. In 2000, the top 200 transnational corporations' combined sales were larger than the combined economies of all 191 countries in the world minus the largest nine (the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, and China). The combined GDPs of the other 182 countries was $6.9 trillion, and the combined sales of the top 200 transnational corporations was $7.1 trillion. The relationship of transnational corporations with developing countries frequently has been troubled, but they can provide capital, managerial expertise, and technology that are all urgently required for development and often would be hard to come by in any other way.
In 1972, the Economic and Social Council requested the Secretary-General to appoint a group of eminent persons to study the impact of transnational corporations on development and international relations. The group of 20 economists, government officials, and corporation executives from all parts of the world met in 1973 and heard testimony from 50 witnesses in public hearings—a procedure new to the UN. Its report, issued in 1974, recommended the creation of a permanent commission on transnational corporations under the Economic and Social Council and an information and research center in the UN Secretariat.
In December 1974, the council established an intergovernmental Commission on Transnational Corporations as a standing committee (not a functional commission) to furnish a forum within the UN system regarding such corporations; promote an exchange of views about them among governments, intergovernmental organizations, business, labor, and consumers; assist the council in developing the basis for a code of conduct on the activities of transnational corporations; and develop a comprehensive information system on their activities.
The 48-member commission meets annually. At its second session, held in Lima in March 1976, it gave priority to the elaboration of a code of conduct and recommended that the Economic and Social Council establish an Intergovernmental Working Group on a Code of Conduct. The code was to be the first multi-laterally agreed framework governing all aspects of the relations between states and transnational corporations, with standards to protect the interests of both the host countries and investors in those countries. The working group held a number of negotiating sessions between 1977 and 1982. Negotiations continued in meetings of a special session of the commission, open to all states.
In April 1991, the commission approved a text authorizing the preparation of recommendations on encouraging TNCs to cooperate in efforts to protect and enhance the environment in all countries for submission to the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992. The commission agreed that the following issues should be addressed: internationally agreed standards; improving management and regulation of industrial processes; transferring environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favorable terms; using environment and development accounting and reporting methods; international environmental management; preventive measures to minimize risks to human life, property, and the environment; and the question of reparations for damage. It directed its secretariat, the Center on Transnational Corporations, to prepare its submission to UNCED. However, in early 1992, the center's functions were absorbed into a new department of the Secretariat and eventually transferred altogether to UNCTAD (see below).
At its 1994 Substantive Session, the commission recommended to ECOSOC that it be integrated into the institutional machinery of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). ECOSOC decided to transmit this recommendation to the General Assembly for action.
An Intergovernmental Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting, established by the Economic and Social Council in 1982, reviews issues that give rise to divergent accounting and reporting practices of transnational corporations and identifies areas where efforts at harmonization appear necessary.
The four other priorities for the commission's program of work were: establishment of an information system to advance understanding of the nature of transnational corporations and their effects on home and host countries; research into the effects of their operations; technical assistance; and work leading to a more precise definition of the term transnational corporations.
The UN Center on Transnational Corporations was established by the Economic and Social Council in 1974 as part of the UN Secretariat. The functions of the center were to develop a comprehensive information system on the activities of transnational corporations, using data from governmental, corporate, and other sources; to analyze and disseminate the information to all governments; to provide technical assistance and strengthen the capacity of host countries (especially developing countries) in their dealings with transnational corporations; and to carry out political, legal, economic, and social research, particularly research to help in devising a code of conduct. By 1985, the center had established that the 350 largest transnational corporations (half of which were based in the United States) had combined sales of US $2.7 trillion, a sum which was larger than the combined GNP of all the developing countries, including China.
In 1990 ECOSOC requested the Center on Transnational Corporations to undertake a survey of corporate environmental management to document the most advanced practices as models for companies that had not yet created environmental programs and to submit the results to UNCED. The "Benchmark Corporate Environmental Survey," was submitted to the UNCED preparatory meeting in August 1991. Twenty percent of the 163 firms surveyed responded. The center recommended UNCED consider the following recommendations in preparing its Agenda 21: increased international cooperation to better inform TNCs of the impact of their operations on the greenhouse phenomenon; include TNCs in the consultative process surrounding climate change studies; treat dioxins and PCBs as international, not just local, pollution problems; transnational affiliates in developing countries should handle toxic wastes according to the same rules as in developed countries; TNCs should create safety zones around their facilities to lessen the potential impact of accidents; the oceans should be protected from land-based pollution; TNCs should sponsor programs to save wetlands and rainforests and protect biodiversity; TNCs should help develop a code of conduct on biotechnology. The center also pointed out that environmental rules and regulations differed from country to country. The companies that responded to the survey were interested in the UN setting international guidelines, although many of them were unaware of the existence of current international guidelines.
In 1992, as part of the comprehensive restructuring of the UN secretariat, the functions of the center were incorporated into a new unit: the Transnational Corporations and Management Division of the Department of Economic and Social Development. In May 1993, the General Assembly transferred responsibility for the transnational program again to the secretariat of UNCTAD.
In 2000, the UNCTAD Advisory Service on Investment and Technology, based on the joint work of the secretariat Divisions on Transnational Corporations and Investment and on Science and Technology, was working to help developing countries expand "their enterprise sector in conjunction with wider national trade, technology, and investment strategies." UNCTAD provided analysis of the role of the largest transnational corporations (TNCs) in foreign direct investment (viewed as critical to development) and emphasized that TNCs must exercise social responsibility in order to support sustainable development.