The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was established by the United Nations Charter as the principal organ, under the authority of the General Assembly, to promote:

(a) higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development;

(b) solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems; and international cultural and educational cooperation; and

(c) universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

The Economic and Social Council has 54 government members, elected for three-year terms by the General Assembly. ECOSOC generally holds one five-to-six-week long substantive session each year, alternating between New York and Geneva, and one organizational session in New York. The substantive session includes a high-level special meeting, attended by Ministers and other high officials, to discuss major economic and social issues. The year-round work of the Council is carried out in its subsidiary bodies – commissions and committees – which meet at regular intervals and report back to the Council.

Under the Charter, the Economic and Social Council may consult with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with matters within the Council’s competence. The Council recognized that these organizations should have the opportunity to express their views, and that they possess special experience or technical knowledge of value to the Council’s work. Under ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, NGOs that wish to consult with ECOSOC on certain matters may seek and be granted consultative status to facilitate this work.

Consultative Status

The basis for the consultative relationship between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations was set forth in the mid-nineties following an extensive intergovernmental review that culminated in ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31. This relationship is the principal means through which ECOSOC receives input from NGOs into its deliberations at public meetings and in its subsidiary bodies as well as in UN international conferences and their preparatory bodies. Each year the approximately 3500 NGOs now holding consultative status receive the provisional agenda of ECOSOC. They have certain privileges to place items on the agenda of ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies; they may attend meetings, where they may submit written statements and make oral presentations to governments.

The UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations is a standing committee of the ECOSOC. Its mandate is set out in ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31. The main tasks of the committee are

  • the consideration of applications for consultative status and requests for reclassification submitted by NGOs
  • the consideration of quadrennial reports submitted by NGOs in General and Special categories
  • the implementation of the provisions of Council Resolution 1996/31 and the monitoring of the consultative relationship
  • any other issues which the Ecosoc may request the Committee to consider

Consultative status differs from other forms of association NGOs may have with such entities of the UN Secretariat as

  • the Department of Public Information (DPI), designed to disseminate information about the United Nations,
  • and the Non-Governmental Liaison Service, designed to disseminate information to and liaise directly with NGOs.

In addition, individual UN departments and agencies may establish their own rules for relations with NGOs and NGO committees.

Information on applying for consultative status as well as a complete list of NGOs in consultative status is available on the DESA / NGO Branch website.

Please see also our page on NGO access to the UN.