Academic journal article Global Governance

Promoting Global Accountability: The Experiences of the Global Accountability Project

Academic journal article Global Governance

Promoting Global Accountability: The Experiences of the Global Accountability Project

Article excerpt

The One World Trust (OWT) is a think tank that conducts research and advocacy into ways of making global governance more accountable. For the past eight years its Global Accountability Project (GAP) has focused on generating awareness of and commitment to common principles of accountability among global actors from across sectors. This article reflects on the work of OWT and others in promoting accountability at the global level, identifying both where progress has been made and where the biggest challenges remain. In doing so, the article provides a snapshot of where debates and practices in respect of global accountability currently stand.

The Problem of Global Accountability

Global actors from across the intergovernmental, nongovernmental, and corporate sectors play an increasingly important role in the structures of global governance. They set financial standards, deliver multilateral aid, provide essential services, and coordinate responses to disease. As such, their decisions and actions profoundly affect people's daily lives.

Yet as these actors have grown in scope and influence, our systems of accountability have largely stayed the same. For example, many developing countries lack an effective voice in the decisionmaking processes of inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and thus struggle to protect their citizens' interests in those institutions. In addition, globalization is eroding the ability and willingness of many states to hold transnational corporations (TNCs) to account for their impacts on communities. Similarly, as many international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) have expanded in size and scope, it has become more difficult for those they purportedly benefit to hold them to account.

Strengthening state-based accountability is one way to address this problem, but the challenges in today's new and more complex system of global governance require a multiplicity of approaches. Hence, a range of new mechanisms and tools for holding global actors to account has emerged. Examples include the Global Reporting Initiative (launched in 1997), the Ethical Trading Initiative (1998), the INGO Accountability Charter (2006), and the Transparency Charter for International Financial Institutions (2006).

The One World Trust's Global Accountability Project is a part of this wave of innovations. Initiated in 2000, the project aims to identify and generate commitment to common principles of accountability among global actors, irrespective of their sector (private, public, or nonprofit) or organizational form. Driving the project is the notion that, to ensure a legitimate and effective system of global governance that is able to deliver on the myriad of problems the world faces, all actors involved in the process of developing and implementing solutions to global challenges need to be accountable and responsive to the people and communities they affect.

Developing a Methodology for Global Accountability

When GAP was established, accountability was emerging as a key issue in respect to a number of high-profile global actors. The "Battle of Seattle" in 1999 and the protests at the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001 raised public awareness of the accountability deficits of multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the G8. At the same time, companies such as BP, Shell, and Monsanto faced considerable pressure from INGOs to exhibit greater accountability for their impacts on society and the environment. INGOs too were starting to feel the heat as corporations, multilateral institutions, and governments raised questions of accountability in the civil society sector.

Engaging with the debates on global governance and accountability at this time, One World Trust found that while many actors were calling for greater accountability, there was no common understanding of what accountability was and how it could be realized at the global level. …

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