CL 123/18


Hundred and Twenty-third Session

Rome, 28 October – 2 November 2002

Comparative Study of Staff Recruitment and Geographic Distribution Practices in the United Nations System

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

1. The charters, statutes and constitutions of most organizations and agencies of the United Nations system state that the paramount consideration in the employment of staff shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity. They all also require that due regard be given to recruiting on as wide a geographical basis as possible.

2. At its Thirty-first Session in November 2001 in the context of its review of the Programme Implementation Report 1998-99 1/, the Conference noted the need for the preparation of a comparative study of staff recruitment practices of FAO and the United Nations (UN), focusing in particular on geographic distribution aspects. It requested that such a study be submitted to the Council at its Hundred and Twenty-third Session (ref. C 2001/REP, para. 79). The purpose of this document is to address that request.

3. With regard to the comparative study, it is recalled that the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) undertook such a study in 1996, the report of which was submitted to the Council at its Hundred and Twelfth Session in June 1997 (ref. CL 112/INF/13). 2/ Copies of that document will be made available for delegations at the documents desk.3/

4. As reported by the JIU, the governing bodies of some organizations (e.g. UN, UNESCO, FAO, ILO, WHO) have set up specific rules (i.e. equitable or desirable ranges) aimed at monitoring the geographic balance of their core professional workforce by nationality. As a rule, general service and short-term staff members are exempt from these rules, as are linguistic staff and those recruited on extra budgetary resources (with the exception of WHO). While a number4/ do not have any specific rules governing geographic distribution, the basic principles described in para. 1 above apply. It is noted that broad diversity of nationalities has been achieved across the UN system, even in very small organizations.

II. Historical Background

5. The principle of appointing staff on a geographical basis in FAO was established in Article VII, para. 3 of the FAO Constitution in 1945:

In appointing the staff, the Director-General shall, subject to the paramount importance of securing the highest standards of efficiency and of technical competence, pay due regard to the importance of selecting personnel recruited on as wide a geographical basis as is possible.

6. It is noted that similar provisions exist in the basic texts of most UN common system organizations. In November 1947 the UN General Assembly (UNGA) affirmed that in view of its international character, the policies and administrative methods of the secretariat should reflect, and profit to the highest degree from, assets of the various cultures and the technical competence of all member nations. Fundamental importance was attached to the universal nature of the UN and, hence, to the widest possible representation of all cultures and the diversity characteristic of member nations. In this way the secretariat would operate independently and fully reflect the richness of the UN’s many components, while ensuring that no country or group of countries became predominant.

7. In FAO the need to apply geographic distribution to professional staff was emphasized at the Eighth Session of the Conference in 1955 by Resolution 50/55. The system to ensure equitable geographic distribution was adopted at the Twenty-seventh Session of the Council in 1957 and is the basis of the present methodology.

8. This methodology (which was based on that in use at UNESCO at that time) is a weighted system that is based only on the contribution percentage of each member nation and that provides:

9. In December 1962 the UNGA reviewed its methodology for the calculation of geographic distribution and set out three factors considered to be essential to the establishment of desirable ranges: (a) the fact of membership in the organization; (b) the population factor and (c) the contributions paid by member nations to the organization’s budget. After a number of modifications, the present UN system for calculating desirable ranges was adopted in December 1987. The operation of this system, which has been applied since January 1988 is as follows:

    1. The base figure for the calculations was established initially as 2 700 posts;
    2. The weight of the membership factor is 40 per cent of the base figure;
    3. The population factor, which is allotted a weight of 5 per cent, is directly related to the total population of all the member nations and distributed among member nations in proportion to their population;
    4. The contribution factor is based on the distribution of the remaining posts among member nations in proportion to the scale of assessments;
    5. The upper and lower limits of each range are based on a flexibility of 15 per cent upwards and downwards from the mid-point of the desirable range, but not less than 4.8 posts up and down, the upper limit being not less than 14 posts;
    6. The base figure will be adjusted whenever the actual number of posts subject to geographical distribution increases or decreases by 100, the weights of the three factors being maintained. It is noted that the current base figure is 2 600 posts.

10. Subsequently, most of the other major UN organizations have adopted methodologies similar to that of the UN itself that base the geographic distribution on a number of factors in addition to the member nation’s assessed contribution to the budget. In fact, FAO is the only one of the larger specialized agencies that continues to use a system based solely on one factor (the contribution percentage).

III. Considerations

11. The Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB)5 / has also noted a general need to improve geographic balance across the UN system. Accordingly, the secretariat of the High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM)6/ has undertaken a review of the organizations’ practices in respect of geographical balance in staffing. The findings of this study confirm that the methodologies described in the 1996 JIU report remain essentially unchanged.

12. The following table has been prepared on the basis of a comparison of the current FAO and UN methodologies:

Geographic distribution of member countries

Comparison of formulas currently applied by FAO and the UN



1. Selection of posts

Posts in the professional and higher categories funded by the regular programme filled by staff on continuing or fixed-term appointments, excluding language posts and the post of the DG. As only filled posts are counted, the number of posts covered by the system fluctuates continually as staff are appointed and separated. As of 31 December 2001, 984 posts were included in the calculation.

All posts in the professional and higher categories funded by the regular programme, excluding language posts and mission posts. This number functions as base figure for the calculations. It is adjusted whenever the actual number of posts subject to geographic distribution increases or decreases by 100. At the UN the current base figure is 2 600.

2. Determination of the representation status of a country

The proportion of a country's representation is based on the percentage of its contribution to the regular programme, assigning values weighted on the basis of grade level to the occupied posts.

The base figure is weighted by three factors, the membership factor with 40%, the population factor with 5%, and the contribution factor with 55%.

3. System of desirable ranges

A member nation is considered to be equitably represented if the representation percentage is within the following limits:

  • if contributing 10% or less to the Regular Programme, the equitable range is 25% below to 50% above the contribution percentage (no country is considered over-represented if it has only one staff member);
  • if contributing over 10% but less than 20% to the Regular Programme, the equitable range is 25% below to 25% above the contribution percentage;
  • if contributing over 20% to the Regular Programme, the equitable range is 25% below to nil percent above (i.e. to the actual contribution percentage).

The mid-point of the range is the sum of the above three factors for each country.

  • Under the membership factor the distribution of posts is equal among all member nations. Each member's share is 40% of the base figure divided by the number of member nations.
  • Each member nation is allocated a share of the population factor, in accordance with the proportion of its population to the global population.
  • Under the contribution factor, each member nation receives posts in proportion to the scale of assessments.

The lower limit of the desirable range is 15% below the mid-point, but a minimum of 4.8 posts. The upper limit is 15% above the mid-point, but a minimum of 14 posts.

13. The attention of the Council is drawn to the following observations:

IV. Conclusion

14. As can be seen from the chart above, were a scheme similar to that of the United Nations to be adopted by FAO, it would result in a significant increase in the number of equitably represented countries with a simultaneous reduction in the number over-represented.

15. It is evident that any such change would require careful review and determination of the essential factors in order to ensure general acceptance. In particular, determination of the number and type of posts to be covered by the geographic distribution system and of the upper and lower limits of the desirable range would be necessary. Should member nations agree that it would be appropriate to amend the geographic distribution methodology, it is suggested that the secretariat prepare a more detailed proposal for their review.


1 / C 2001/8; C 2001/8-Corr.1-Rev.1; C 2001/LIM/4, C 2001/II/PV/1, C 2001/II/PV/6; C 2001/PV/14.

2 / It is noted that at that time the Council had no specific reaction to the recommendations in the JIU report.

3 / Copies may also be obtained from the JIU web site at (JIU document reference JIU/REP/96/7)


5 / Formerly the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC).

6 / The HLCM is a subsidiary body to the CEB.