Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is an important organ within the United Nations with regards to human rights and international development. In fact, “[t]he Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development” (ECOSOC, 2014). In fact, ECOSOC was one of the original six organs of the United Nations. However, interestingly, ECOSOC, along with the General Assembly, were seen as having less power with regards to issues of international development. Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease (2014) explain this by saying that “[s]tates were obligated by the UN Charter to cooperate internationally on development matters and to report to the United Nations. But the principal UN organs, including the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) were not seen as having a major operational role in advancing development. ECOSOC and the General Assembly were seen as legitimating and coordinating mechanisms” (260). The reason for this had to do with Western states concerned about the possibility of increased power of states within the United Nations, who could potentially vote on issues opposite the interests of these capital rich Western states (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014).

Mandate of ECOSOC

From its origins, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has had the ability to emphasis human right and development issues. Through the UN Charter, ECOSOC has the mandate to work on human rights issues. For example, Article 62 allows ECOSOC to write reports on human rights abuses. They also have the mandate to make recommendations on human rights issues. Furthermore, Article 68 of the United Nations Charter gives ECOSOC the mandate to organize human rights commissions, which ECOSOC did do with the Commission on Human Rights (which later became the Human Rights Council) (Mertus, 2009).

With regards to development, ECOSOC has an expansive mandate. Specifically, ECOSOC “is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as for implementation of the internationally agreed development goals” (ECOSOC, 2014). This power is given through Article 55 of the UN Charter (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). In addition, it oversees various activities with regards to social, economic, and cultural issues as they relate to human rights and international development (ECOSOC, 2014).

ECOSOC Structure

ECOSOC receives its funding from the office of the Secretariat. In terms of its structure, “ECOSOC is made up of five regional and ten functional commissions that cover the gambit of development issues and concerns. It officially coordinates the work of fourteen specialized agencies and eleven UN funds and programs and is serviced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 284). There are 54 members on the Economic and Social Council. These members are selected from the United Nations General Assembly (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014).

Reforming the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

The United Nations Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly are not the only United Nations organs that have been called to reform. ECOSOC has also went through a discussion with regards to changing the organization, and has at times been reformed. Much of this has to do with the makeup of the organization, as well as the difficulty in organization and explicit role that the organization has with regards to other entities in the United Nations.

For example, with regards to the structure of ECOSOC, in the 1950s and 1960s, as more and more states were entering into the United Nations as members, they were calling for greater representation. And while the permanent members of the UN Security Council were less willing to offer concessions with regards to additional members in the UNSC, changes to ECOSOC were quicker and less debated. As Luck (2003) explains “[t]he expansion of ECOSOC…appeared to be a simpler and less consequential step [compared to the UNSC]. One-third of its 18 members were elected each year to three-year terms, with each member having a single vote and equal rights. Not only are there no permanent members or vetoes in ECOSOC, but its mandate avoided core security issues, its primary task was coordination not policy, and its decisions were only recommendations…(7). And in 1963, we did indeed see states in the UN vote for new members to be added to ECOSOC (Luck, 2003).

And with regards to coordination of development, part of the problem is that the United Nations itself has so many bodies that work on development issues. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is supposed to coordinate these actors, although it has been difficult to do so at times. As Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease (2014) explain, “[i]n reality, ECOSOC is something of a mailbox between the General Assembly and the rest of the socioeconomic agencies involved in development. As such, ECOSOC–meaning the states that have representatives there–has developed supplemental coordinating arrangements” (285).



ECOSOC (2014). UN Economic and Social Council. About ECOSOC. Available Online:

Luck, E.C. (2003). Reforming the United Nations. Lessons from a History in Progress, International Relations Studies and the United Nations Occasional Papers, No. 1, pages 1-74. Available Online:

Mertus, J. (2009). The United Nations and Human Rights: A Guide for a new Era. New York, New York. Routledge.

Weiss, T. G., Forsythe, D. P., Coate, R. A., & Pease, K. K. (2014). The United Nations and Changing World Politics. New York, New York. Westview Press. 

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