Labor Rights, Globalization and Institutions: The Role and Influence of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
80 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2001
In exploring the promotion of labor rights by international governmental institutions, scholars have largely focused on the International Labor Organization, the WTO, and the European Union. In this well trodden field of study, though, another key IGO player has been overlooked, with little scholarly consideration given to the role of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Even those who know of the OECD focus on its well-known activities in economic spheres, rarely thinking of its role in relation to social issues, much less to labor rights. While the OECD's reports, recommendations and decisions have been discussed in a wide range of scholarship, remarkably little has been written on the institution itself. This oversight is unfortunate because the OECD has played, and continues to play, an important role outside a purely economic context.
This article focuses on the OECD's role in the development of labor rights, but its findings are relevant across the breadth of the OECD's activities, from environmental protection and trade to agriculture and transport policy. It is hoped that exploration of the OECD's role in labor rights will provide a broad foundation for future work on other aspects of the institution, informing research on the operations, capacity, and potential of the OECD.
The article has four sections. The first recounts the OECD's history, from its creation as the overseer of the Marshall Plan to its current prominence as global economic analyst, and explains its operations. The second section explores the OECD's influence on development of labor rights, examining the well-known OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, publications on trade and labor by the Employment, Labor and Social Affairs Directorate, and the events surrounding South Korea's accession to the OECD. Each of these activities, though quite different from one another (and, in combination, very different from other IGOs' activities), provided important spurs to the articulation and development of core labor rights. The third section presents a detailed case study of the failed negotiations at the OECD over the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). The case study provides insight both into an important event in the march toward globalization and into the role the OECD can meaningfully play in formally linking trade and labor rights.
These different empirical analyses combine to inform the institutional analysis in Part IV. In reviewing instances where the OECD has proven most effective and assessing its relative strengths and weaknesses in comparison to competing IGOs, this section draws from international relations scholarship and focuses on the OECD's two distinguishing assets - its role in creating epistemic communities and influence as a conditional agenda-setter. The concluding section considers the future of the OECD, proposing how it can better meet the challenges posed by globalization in a very different world than the one envisaged by the organization's architects over fifty years ago.
Keywords: OECD, labor rights, multilateral agreement on investment, globalization, international organizations
JEL Classification: F0, F1, J0, J5, L5, P0
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation