Organizing steel

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From scrap to scrap

International organizations such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC, now the OECD) made steel a priority area after the Second World War. After all, steel was an essential commodity, not just for waging war, but also for reconstructing destroyed infrastructures.

International organizations played an important role in allocating steel scrap across borders; for example, to increase steel production for reconstructing the European economy. When the Soviet Union refused to coordinate steel scrap allocation in the UNECE, the OEEC played a leading role in its effective distribution in Western Europe from 1948.

European companies still play a central political role in World Steel, the global organization of steel companies, which continues to have its headquarters in Brussels. Their close collaboration since 1884 has made it easier for them to mediate among steel companies globally, at a time when the output of crude steel is now eight times higher in Asia than in Europe.

How to cite this page


Wolfram Kaiser, 'Organizing steel', Inventing Europe,


  1. Kaiser, Wolfram and Johan Schot. Writing the Rules for Europe. Experts, Cartels, and International Organizations, chap. 7. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2014
  2. Warren, Kenneth. World Steel. An Economic Geography. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1975.

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Building Europe on Steel

Europe invented steel and dominated its production, before becoming more marginal in an increasingly globalized sector. Workers, engineers, entrepreneurs, steel companies, and research institutes freely transferred technological know-how. However, low growth and the substitution of steel with other materials caused a severe structural crisis after 1974. This crisis saw reduced demand for steel and a shift of production to Asia.

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