The Ford Foundation, NGOs, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

by Shaine Scarminach

Feb 24, 2021

While not well known among the general public, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea remains one of the most important global environmental agreements ever reached. Under the auspices of the United Nations, delegates from over 150 nations worked for almost a decade to develop a comprehensive legal regime to govern the oceans. Yet these delegates did not discuss and debate alone. They were joined by a transnational network of activists, lawyers, scientists, and other professionals concerned with humanity's changing relationship with the oceans. Between the late 1960s and early 1980s, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) brought these different groups together in conferences, workshops, and other informal gatherings to advance scholarship, shape policy, and educate the public. But without the direct sponsorship of participating states, NGOs had to look elsewhere for the resources necessary to realize their mission. Philanthropic organizations, such as the Ford Foundation, often supplied a crucial source of funding. With the financial backing of wealthy foundations, smaller NGOs could explore ideas, establish relationships, and highlight voices left out of the official negotiations.

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