Chicago Journal of International Law


In the last decades of the twentieth century, the world witnessed an unprecedented surge in the number and scope of non-governmental organizations ("NGOs")-formal, influence-minded groups unattached to any state. We see evidence of these NGOs scattered on our streets and our TV sets; in protests and relief activities; in solicitations and annual campaigns. While there are still those who dismiss NGO activity as a passing fad, most observers now realize that the NGOs are here and likely to stay. Certainly, the available statistics support this anecdotal impression. NGOs registered in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development ("OECD") countries rose from 1,600 in 1980 to 2,970 in 1993, and spending by these groups more than doubled during this time from $2.8 billion to $5.7 billion. By 1995, a United Nations report put the number of international NGOs at nearly 29,000; while the Economist estimated that there were 2 million of these groups in the United States alone by 2000. Similar growth rates are reported in the developing world: in Nepal, for example, the number of registered NGOs rose from 220 in 1990 to 1,210 in 1993; and in Kenya, a reported 240 NGOs are created every year. More critical than the numbers, however, is the influence that NGOs are beginning to exert over other, more established sectors of society. In the United States and European Union, for example, NGOs have become major conduits for development aid, accounting for 67 percent of the EU's relief aid in 1994 and 5 percent of the OECD's total aid budget between 1993 and 1994. In Bangladesh, Uganda, and elsewhere, they act in some instances like agents of the state, performing functions that were once reserved solely for local governments, such as education, health, and rural banking. And in the private sector, NGOs exert a strong and growing pull. Corporate giants such as Shell and Nike have altered their commercial practices in response to NGO critics, and hordes of less visible firms are paying new heed to the scruffy activists they once dismissed. In what may be seen as a watershed of non-governmental activity, the 1999 world trade talks in Seattle were effectively paralyzed by NGO protests, causing great embarrassment (and in some cases, significant financial loss) to the firms and states involved. [CONT]