Center for Governance and Sustainability

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

United Nations and the Private Non-State World

Key segments of the international elite were quite concerned that global market mechanisms had failed to control the speed of the transmission and the intensity of what should have been only a domestic US housing crisis. If anything, these global market mechanisms increased the uncontrollable speed at which financial instability from one sector in one country turned a national crisis into a global phenomenon. In short, WEF’s leaders recognized that the ad hoc solutions that patched up the 2007/2008 crisis did not provide adequate security to control future global macro-economic crises. The GRI also saw that the public perception that the global financial crisis was out of control contributed to the de-legitimization of globalization. Too many countries, too many organizations, and too many people were openly critical of globalization and of multinational banking. Many were fearful that they faced diminished opportunities to improve their own lives and institutions.

Out of GRI’s discussions, there evolved a proposal to bring some of the key informal global governance processes and Actors under the wings of the UN system. This integration of global executives with UN diplomats and civil servants was seen as a way to rejuvenate the acceptance of globalization. The thinking is that, if globalization leaders were more involved in the policy development and program implementation of the UN, then organizations and peoples throughout the world may well look more favorably on the legitimacy of their combined efforts. The proposal for enhanced engagement with the UN system also marked the transformation of the informal global governance system of the international market into a new alliance with formal institutions of global governance. The benefits of conjoining the informal market-based system with the official state-centric system were that multinationals were no longer outside the gate, but were entering the system as equal or greater than equal partners in a transformed UN system.   

There are a good number of the proposals in Everybody’s Business which brings part of the informal global governance system under the umbrella of the formal system; there are also a good number of proposals in Everybody’s Business for taking topics on the current agenda of the UN system and moving them under a multi-stakeholder umbrella. The United Nation system has a role – albeit one not envisaged in the UN Charter – in  WEF’s redesign of global governance. Finding the right balance between the UN Charter state-centric governance system and a firm-centric, multi-stakeholder governance system is what will, in WEF’s eyes, make both systems work better.

In this new "geometry of cooperation" framework, WEF can draw on a limited number of current formal-informal governance understandings. For example, the Kimberly Process for managing potential blood diamonds brought together a consortium of gold mining and trading firms, civil society actors, and African governments with gold mining sectors. These Actors constructed on their own a certification process to keep conflict diamonds out of international trade, even in trade with non-participating countries. To enhance international legitimacy for the Kimberly Process, they sought and welcomed a formal General Assembly resolution endorsing their procedures. This partial integration of the de facto system, in WEF’s view, gives it greater legitimacy by the implicit endorsement of nation-states, most of which remain outside the de facto system.

The concepts behind WEF’s perspective on global governance are first that multinational corporations; nation-states, including the UN system; and selected civil society organizations ought to jointly -- and are best able to -- manage a globalized world. And second that, without such a joint team to re-assert effectiveness and legitimacy to globalization, the systemic tensions in globalization will continue to challenge the foundations of the global market and international relations.

The next section of the Readers' Guide examines this re-balancing in terms of the current traditional divisions of governance within capitols and within the academic literature.


Related Ideas: Challenges to UN system; Participation; Public-private; Enabling action; Informal conference planning; Joint review

The Readers' Guide welcomes comments with alternative examples or counter examples and commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above interpretation of GRI’s perspective.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.