When one thinks of international organizations and lawmaking, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rarely merits a mention. It certainly pales in comparison to bodies in the U.N. system: the International Labor Organization, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). For its first fifty years, the OECD has remained a remarkably low-profile institution. Even among international lawyers, few know what the organization really does. Even those who know of the OECD tend to focus on its well-known activities in economic spheres, rarely thinking of its role in relation to social or environmental issues.1 As a result, it should come as no surprise that there has been little political science or legal scholarship on the OECD as an institution in any context.
This issue of The George Washington International Law Review focusing on the OECD is therefore long overdue, for the OECD has played, and continues to play, an important and largely unrecognized role as a lawmaking body. Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, for example, has predicted that, in stark contrast to the United Nations, "[t]he next generation of international institutions is . . . likely to look more like the Basle Committee [, composed of twelve central bank governors], or, more formally, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, dedicated to providing a forum for transnational problem-solving and the harmonization of national law."2
The OECD occupies a unique space in the international lawmaking field, in large part because it was not established with lawmaking as a priority. First established to administer the Marshall Fund for the reconstruction of Europe, the OECD's founding treaty mandated the organization to promote policies designed:
(a) to achieve the highest sustainable economic growth and employment and a rising standard of living in Member countries, while maintaining financial stability, and thus to contribute to the development of the world economy;
(b) to contribute to sound economic expansion in Member as well as non-Member countries in the process of economic development; and
(c) to contribute to the expansion of world trade on a multilateral, non-discriminatory basis in accordance with international obligations.3
Its primary purpose was economic rather than legislative. To that end, the OECD plays a range of roles.
First and foremost, the OECD is a research and networking organization. By virtue of its restricted membership, the OECD in many respects acts as an exclusive club whose members produce two-thirds of the world's goods and services. The OECD provides a private setting for wealthy industrialized governments to share experiences, identify issues of common concern, and coordinate domestic and international policies. In simple terms, the OECD's range of standing inter-governmental committees serve as useful talking shops for countries to share experiences, learning from one another's successes and challenges. While not voiced openly, the closed-door meetings of the OECD provide an important alternative forum to what is often viewed as the developing country-dominated and politicized U.N. system. The OECD occupies a unique position in the constellation of international organizations, with membership broader than the European Union, the Nordic Council, or the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), yet much more restrictive than the United Nations or WTO, and with topic coverage as broad as any international organization. As a result, the OECD provides a restricted forum on virtually unrestricted topics.
The OECD also acts as a high-powered research institution. Its more than 2000 employees (many of whom are economists) collect data, monitor trends, forecast economic developments, and develop policy options for consideration by member countries. Its Economic Outlook series, for example, forecasts macroeconomic trends over the next two years such as gross domestic product, employment, account balances, and interest rates, each of which is followed closely by the global financial media. …