Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, composed of representatives of 54 countries. Each year 18 members are elected by the UN General Assembly for three-year terms. ECOSOC’s early activities were directed towards providing aid to war-ravaged countries of Europe and Asia. Today, the problems of developing nations are its major concern. The council carries out studies on international economic, social, humanitarian, cultural, educational, and related matters, and coordinates the activities of the UN’s specialized agencies in these areas. ECOSOC operates mainly through its various standing committees, functional commissions, and regional commissions. The decisions reached at council meetings, where each member has one vote and simple majority rules, are sent as recommendations to the General Assembly.
The six functional commissions deal with problems relating to social development, human rights, the status of women, illicit drugs, population, and national and international statistics. There are also five standing committees and assorted expert bodies that deal with such matters as natural resources, development of science and technology, and crime prevention.
Five regional commissions are currently in operation within the council. They are modelled after the parent body and reflect the geographic diversity of resources and needs. Each one is headed by an executive secretary. The Economic Commission for Europe, based in Geneva, has 55 members; and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, headquartered in Bangkok, has 52 full members and 9 associate members; both were established in 1947. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, with 41 full members and 7 associate members, was set up in 1948 in Santiago, Chile. In 1958 the Economic Commission for Africa was established at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; it has 53 participating member nations. The Economic Commission for Western Asia, with 13 members, was organized in 1973 in Beirut, Lebanon; its headquarters were subsequently moved to Baghdad, Iraq, because of the war in Lebanon, but thereafter returned to Beirut.
A regional commission may make recommendations to any member government but can act only with the consent of that government. Regional cooperation has stimulated progress in agriculture, industry, education, housing, electric power, trade, transport, and environmental protection issues.
ECOSOC is also involved with other UN organs, participating in their work or electing board members for numerous specialized agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Children’s Fund.