The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is often referred to as the 'rich country' club. Founded in 1961, its 30 member countries produce two-thirds of the world's goods and services. The OECD includes most of the world's main donor countries. One of the OECD's main functions is to facilitate policy discussion and co-ordination amongst its members. To this end it brings together ministers, officials and specialists from all member countries in a variety of fora.
The OECD Secretariat is divided into approximately a dozen Directorates. These Directorates are serviced by Committees that concentrate on specific issues. Committees are the core policy communities at the OECD. Many Committees work on issues relevant to development and offer valuable opportunities for NGO advocacy and lobbying. However, with a few notable exceptions, development NGOs are less active in OECD policy fora than many other civil society concerns.
The OECD has engaged with civil society since its inception. For many years the organisation's relationship with civil society focused on the business and labour sectors through the Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) and the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC). Both BIAC and TUAC are officially recognised by the OECD, and are involved in consultations across a wide range of OECD Committees. Over the past decade the OECD has increasingly engaged in dialogue with civil society organisations representing other interests, including development. However, while business and labour concerns are formally recognised, dialogue with other interests is largely informal.
The OECD body of most interest to development NGOs is the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). This is the forum where donor countries discuss key policy issues and policy co-ordination. NGOs have maintained regular contact with the DAC through a range of informal consultations. Important areas of the DAC's work are undertaken by working parties and task forces, where DAC member countries are usually represented by specialists. These include the Working Party on Development Co-operation and the Environment, established in 1989, one of the few fora where NGOs are permanent observers. Three organisations have this status: the International Institute for Environment and Development, the World Conservation Union and the World Resource Institute.
The DAC is not only a focus for advocacy - it is a valuable source of information and many development NGOs use DAC information as a tool for advocacy. Probably the best known is the Reality of Aid project . Nor is the DAC the only OECD Committee to offer advocacy opportunities for development NGOs. Since 1999 the Committee on Trade has held annual informal consultations with civil society groups prior to its autumn meetings. Both national and international NGOs representing a variety of interests have participated in these consultations, which also include BIAC, TUAC and consumer groups (*see side box for summary details). NGOs, and particularly UK NGOs, have also engaged in advocacy and lobbying on issues such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Since the adoption of the Guidelines, NGOs have played a role in monitoring their implementation.
Although the OECD engages with both national and international NGOs, many of the more successful lobbies, such as the environment lobby, have operated as cross-country collaborations. The environmental lobby has a long history with the OECD and is involved in consultations with several Committees. Whilst development NGOs are increasingly exploiting the advocacy opportunities afforded by the OECD's policy communities, engagement with some Committees, such as those on Agriculture and Fisheries, is still quite limited.
Consultation with civil society is not uniform across the OECD. Individual committees and working groups have different procedures and levels of engagement. However, overall the OECD is increasingly open to dialogue with civil society organisations. For development NGOs this means opportunities for advocacy. Intergovernmental organisations such as the OECD also challenge NGOs to engage more in international networking around key advocacy issues.
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