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You can’t label all international organisations as wasteful logo

You can’t label all international organisations as wasteful

It is possible for individuals and communities to hold many global bodies to account, says Robert Lloyd

The picture Simon Jenkins paints of accountability at international level is over-simplistic (Once, ‘international’ sounded saintly. Now it means bureaucracy and waste, May 30). While I agree that there is an “accountability deficit” in multilateral institutions, I disagree with the way he equates all international organisations with bureaucracy, waste and a lack of accountability. “Today the word ‘international’ suggests tailored suits, tax-free salaries, white Land Cruisers and Geneva,” he says. But broad-brush arguments tarring all international actors with the same stroke ignore the many positive steps made by the UN and other bodies to improve their accountability and strengthen their legitimacy.

Jenkins claims that “the ever-more numerous world bodies to which the British Foreign Office subscribes need never pass the eye of any National Audit Office”. The One World Trust has been researching the accountability of international organisations for eight years, and our findings paint a more nuanced picture. While some intergovernmental, non-governmental and corporate organisations – such as Fifa – struggle with accountability, others have made significant improvements.

Many of the organisations which Jenkins criticised have developed innovative ways in which individuals and communities can hold them to account. The UN Development Programme has adapted the principle of a national freedom of information act and now has a policy grounded in the presumption of disclosure. The UN Environment Programme runs regional conferences with civil society organisations that feed into its governing council. The World Bank has a mechanism for project-affected communities to initiate investigations when institutional policy has not been followed.

“The Americans are right,” says Jenkins, “that if you want something done in the world, get a nation to do it, not an inter-nation.” On the contrary, each of the above organisations plays a crucial role in global affairs. They strengthen democratic institutions, coordinate responses to environmental problems, and mobilise resources to combat poverty – no single state could deliver this alone. No, they are not perfect, they make mistakes, but these are complex political problems.

My worry is that unless we start grounding the debate on international organisations in an objective analysis of what they are doing, rather than relying on anecdotal evidence that highlights failure, we will give fuel to those people who seek to undermine multilateralism just when we need it the most.

Jenkins cites the UN, Nato, the World Bank, Unesco and the EU in his list of organisations that need to be accountable; but how about Save the Children, Oxfam International, Shell, Anglo American and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation? These corporate and non-governmental organisations are involved in shaping and implementing global policy, so the challenge we face is raising the bar of accountability among all actors operating at the international level – state or non-state, public or private.

· Robert Lloyd is projects manager for global accountability at the One World Trust [email protected] and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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