At the end of 2012, Britain withdrew its membership from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, or Unido, the most recent of several major donor countries (including the United States and Canada) to do so. Although it has had strong support from many developing countries, Unido has for many years been regarded with skepticism by some donors. But just as it seemed to be launching itself again into new initiatives, the sudden loss of 9 percent of its core financing has plunged the organization into a new period of introspection. With a new director-general, Li Yong, having been appointed this year, what does the future hold?
Unido came into being in a rather different manner from other UN organizations. Standard-setting was one of the original rationales for many of them. For industrial standards, however, the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) was set up in 1946, independent from the UN system. It was not “brought into relation” with the UN partly because it comprised many nongovernmental interests from the beginning.
The UN proper was also called on to act as a conduit for the transfer of resources (including humanitarian) to developing countries. These funds are principally Unicef, the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), both created in the aftermath of World War II, and later the UN Development Program (UNDP), World Food Program (WFP), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Other UN organizations were created in response to development concerns with necessarily global dimensions.
The rationale for the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad, 1964) was the inequitable global trading conditions and the chronic decline in terms of trade between the global North and global South. The UN Environment Program (UNEP, 1972) was created in recognition of the global dimensions of environmental stress and the need for global solutions.
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Stephen Browne spent more than 30 years working in the UN system and now lectures on the UN. This essay is adapted from his latest book, “Aid and Influence: Patronage, Power and Politics,” published by Routledge in 2022.