The Economic and Social Council has 54 members, elected for three-year terms by the General Assembly. Voting in the Council is by simple majority; each member has one vote.
The Economic and Social Council generally holds one five-to-six-week long substantive session each year, alternating between New York and Geneva, and one organizational session in New York.
The substantive session includes a high-level special meeting, attended by Ministers and other high officials, to discuss major economic and social issues.
- serves as the central forum for the discussion of international economic and social issues of a global or inter-disciplinary nature and the formulation of policy recommendations on those issues addressed to Member States and to the United Nations system;
- makes and initiates studies and reports and make recommendations on international economic, social, cultural, educational, health and related matters;
- promotes respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms;
- calls international conferences and prepares draft conventions for submission to the General Assembly on matters falling within its competence;
- negotiates agreements with the specialized agencies defining their relationship with the United Nations;
- coordinates the activities of the specialized agencies by means of consultations with and recommendations to them and by means of recommendations to the General Assembly and the Members of the United Nations;
- performs services, approved by the Assembly, for Members of the United Nations and, on request, for the specialized agencies;
- consults with non-governmental organizations concerned with matters with which the Council deals.
The year-round work of the Council is carried out in its subsidiary bodies – commissions and committees – which meet at regular intervals and report back to the Council. Under the Charter, the Economic and Social Council may consult with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with matters within the Council's competence.
The Council recognizes that these organizations should have the opportunity to express their views, and that they possess special experience or technical knowledge of value to the Council's work.
Over 3,172 non-governmental organizations have consultative status with the Council. NGOs with consultative status may send observers to public meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies and may submit written statements relevant to the Council's work. They may also consult with the United Nations Secretariat on matters of mutual concern.