Civil society first emerged in a select handful of countries. It then spread to all developed countries and since the 1980s, it has enjoyed presence throughout the world. Civil society has participated in globalization and in the exchange of goods, services, and capital, as well as in the exchange of ideas and information.
A Globalized Presence.
While the influence of civic associations in a given country can vary greatly, the end of the 20th century saw the emergence of transnational networks that united all non-governmental, non-commercial and non-family actors interested in key global issues such as human rights, the environment, health, social justice, and development. The major international NGOs, such as Oxfam, Greenpeace, and the WWF are some of the best-known and most visible organizations in this alternative globalization network. But the movement is even more vast than this. The UN counted only 1,000 transnational civic organizations in 1914, but by 1981 that number was 13 times greater, and today there are close to 50,000. The number of these organizations recognized as observers by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has followed a similar trend. Their influence is often measured in terms of their impact on the major international institutions, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or the World Bank. Events such as the protest by 50,000 people from 500 different organizations against the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle in 1999 left their mark in popular memory, but the real influence of NGOs lies elsewhere. Their chief role since their appearance on the international scene has been to raise new subjects for debate, to ask new questions, and to politicize and globalize problems that have been overlooked or considered to be the affairs of sovereign states up until now. In this regard, NGOs have become experts at formulating global issues, and they are legitimized by their relations with local communities and developing countries.
The Strength of a Network.
The strength of organizations such as Oxfam, Greenpeace, or the WWF lies in their capacity to mobilize public opinion in several countries around the same issues, coordinate campaigns, provide independent expertise, and even organize action on the ground to force politicians to take part in the debate. It is the tireless struggle of Greenpeace against whaling, it is Oxfam's campaign for the reform of common agricultural policy, it is the campaign of the WWF to create conservation areas and protect threatened species that have helped to keep these issues on the international agenda. Thanks to the campaigns organized since 1999 to promote access to AIDS treatment, the WTO has recognized health exceptions for drug patents, developed countries have created the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (see Focus16), and major pharmaceutical companies have lowered the cost of treatment for sufferers in developing countries. Similarly, pressure applied by the World Alliance against Poverty in 72 countries clearly led to higher commitments being undertaken during the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in 2005, concerning the the reduction of the debt of developing countries, the eradication of poverty, and the development of the African continent. The global campaign "Control Arms," initiated at the World Social Forum in 2005, aims to increase global regulations regarding restrictions on light weapons and fragmentation-type antipersonnel mines. In 2008, initial steps were taken toward an international treaty on traditional weapons. With strengthened mobilization capacity, global civil society networks are monitoring the implementation of the commitments undertaken by governments and international institutions. They also play an important role in distributing information about the situation in authoritarian States and in supporting movements for political and social rights in many countries. The emergence of civil society is often linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the democratization of Latin America in the 1980s. Yet there is a problem that still remains: how can the populations of developing countries be effectively represented, and how can their expectations be addressed? The major networks have long been dominated by the European and North American organizations that initiated them, and they reflect their values. Now that new global challenges have come to the fore, these networks are striving to make connections with new partner organizations in emerging and developing countries, and are now capable of publicizing their own concerns, values, and proposals. The world social forums held in Brazil, India, and Africa bear witness to these efforts.
The weight of NGOs
Timeline of pressure groups