Publication Title

AJIL Unbound


international organizations, trade and industry groups

Document Type



The standard approach of international organizations (IOs) makes no formal distinctions between nonprofit private sector associations, known as trade or industry groups, and public interest groups like Amnesty International or Greenpeace. After all, these groups are all organized as nonprofits; they may all be characterized as nongovernmental organizations representing the interests of their memberships; and the groups all seek to advance the agendas of members by offering ideas and expertise to international officials or bodies—classic lobbying activity. Thus, most IOs offer accreditation and access to both private sector and public interest groups on equal terms, without differentiating between them. I will call this approach “interest blind” and use this essay to examine its origins and consequences.

Specifically, the interest blind approach has resulted in robust participation by private sector groups, and their contributions affect the quality of deliberation at international organizations, and of information that international lawmakers receive. While there are dangers, a successful reform will not seek rigid divisions between public interest and private sector groups, as the World Health Organization has recently tried to do, but will instead capture the informational and practical contributions of all nonstate participants, while introducing more functional registration and disclosure rules.



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