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11 February 2003
WTO gets high marks for accountability, transparency

The first Global Accountability Report has given high marks to the WTO, ranking it third on access to online information, eighth on member control and fourth overall among 18 inter-governmental organizations, transnational corporations and international NGOs.

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The report is the first of its kind to compare the accountability of these three types of organizations. Scores were given for the organization's performance in two aspects of accountability: member control of governance structures and access to information.

One World Trust, a United Kingdom charity, started the Global Accountability Project in 1999 with the aim of better understanding what international accountability means and how this can be improved. It brought together a group of experts — drawn from the NGOs, universities and international institutions — to guarantee the accountability and transparency of the project.

The report used access to online information as a proxy for an organization's overall transparency. Under this criterion, the WTO is ranked third, below the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Federation of the Red Cross, and above the World Bank, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Rio Tinto and Shell.

The reports says: “Information on the WTO's trade activities is excellent. The WTO provides access to the legal texts of its agreements by topic, alongside a full, non-technical description of the law. This is very important given the technical nature of much of the work its covers...”

The report notes that the WTO is only one of two inter-governmental organizations surveyed “that publishes its entire website in more than one language, in this case French and Spanish”.

On “member control,” the WTO is ranked eighth among the 18 organizations. The report notes that “decisions (in the WTO) are taken by consensus so each member has equal decision-making power”. It says that while formally, all members are given representation on the governing body, “25 of the smaller developing country members do not even have an office in Geneva, making it difficult for them to attend these meetings”. It adds that “the existence of informal decision-making structures reduces the ability for all members to have a say in the decisions made by the organization”.

On this subject, the report concludes: “The presence of these informal realities overshadows the fact that all members are represented at the executive and that decision-making is based on consensus, seemingly preventing a minority of members dominating decision-making. Amendments to the governing articles require consensus.”

Overall, the WTO is ranked fourth on member control and access to information scores combined, below the Red Cross, Amnesty International and the OECD, and above Rio Tinto, GSK, Oxfam, Avantis, UNHCR and the World Bank.

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Download the report (pdf format, 50 pages, 300KB)

One World Trust Global Accountability Project (link opens a new window)