In 1970, UN member nations pledged 0.7 per cent of their gross national income to foreign aid but only a handful have reached the target, Oxfam Scotland has said. Westminster has said it aims to reach 0.7 per cent by 2013.
Oxfam Scotland unveiled a 40th "birthday cake" yesterday to highlight the issue.
Malcolm Fleming, Oxfam Scotland's campaigns manager, said: "The year 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of a very important promise made by the UK government and all of the UN member countries.
"They all agreed to give 0.7 per cent of their annual income in aid to developing countries and to do it by the mid-1970s.
"That tiny percentage is easily affordable to the world's richest nations but can mean the difference between life and death for the world's poorest people.
"However, the UK has never reached that target and Oxfam thinks it's about time the country came good on that promise. The government has since set a target of 2013 to reach 0.7 per cent but they must take huge steps towards achieving that in 2010."
Mr Fleming said the economic downturn should not be used as a reason for the UK not reaching the target.
"The effects of the recession are felt even more painfully in poor countries.
"If all of the UN member countries came good on their promise to give 0.7 per cent every year, potentially millions of lives would be saved around the developing world."
"This year is the year of reckoning for rich countries," Mr Fleming said. "The next G8 summit will be held in Canada in June and that is when all of the promises made are due."