The Global Accountability Project - Preliminary Results, Future Development

The 21st century is crammed with organizations that boast a global reach. Powerful actors from intergovernmental organizations, transnational corporations, and non-governmental organizations routinely work across national borders and take decisions that have an impact on all of our lives. Street protesters, academics and politicians alike are asking ever more forcefully how we can hold them to account for their actions. Yet, we lack a clear understanding of what the term means and how accountability mechanisms can be strengthened to improve global policy-making. We all demand accountability - but what does that mean and how can we achieve it?


These questions were at the heart of the first event in the GPPi Discussion Series on 3 June 2004. As part of a research project on global governance and accountability supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, GPPi invited Caroline Neligan of the One World Trust’s Global Accountability Project to present the findings of the first Global Accountability Report.


That report is the first of its kind to compare the accountability of eighteen of the world’s most powerful intergovernmental organizations, transnational corporations and international NGOs. Scores are provided for their performance in two respects: member control of governance structures and access to information for external stakeholders. The results show wide differences both within and between the three groups, clearly indicating leaders in the field and those falling behind.


Caroline Neligan then joined GPPi’s Wolfgang Reinicke, Thorsten Benner and Jan Martin for a panel discussion with the audience. The debate moderated by GPPi fellow Julia Steets focused on two issues: First, the costs of accountability: The commentators agreed that it is important to consider the actual financial, organizational and other costs of accountability when calling for new accountability mechanisms to be put in place. At the same time, it was also noted that a focus on costs ignores a very important political issue: while accountability certainly is costly, one should also ask what the costs of being "not accountable" are.


Second, the benefits of accountability: Several participants noted that it is a mistake to look at accountability mechanisms exclusively as cost factors. They stressed that the implementation of accountability mechanisms can at the same time improve organizational performance. Some participant commentary encouraged researchers to look into cases in which the implementation of accountability has actually led to improved organizational effectiveness and/or efficiency. Other comments stressed that the benefits from increased accountability were far from clear. A brand-conscious company stressing its adherence to high standards might instead attract increased attention and criticism from NGOs whereas other companies in the same field who do not apply new reporting guidelines might go unnoticed.


Accountablity Report:



Conference Program