Article 55 of the charter, on international economic and social cooperation, calls on the UN to promote higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development. The fostering of economic and social development, however, was only one of several objectives specified in the charter, and no special emphasis was accorded to it. The League of Nations and the early ILO were concerned primarily with defensive or protective action, such as the protection of countries against diseases that might cross international frontiers, prevention of international traffic in women and children and in illicit drugs, and protection of workers against unfair and inhumane conditions of labor. Such early action in the economic and social fields was taken in a climate of thought that hardly recognized the concept of economic and social development.

Toward the middle of this century, however, the concept took root as a major objective of international cooperation, and the primary goal of the UN and the specialized agencies in the economic and social fields came to be promoting the development of the less developed countries.

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