Across the world, citizens and social movements are mounting strong and effective campaigns to fight the environmental and social abuses of transnational corporations.
People have fought to defend control over their water, to block contaminating mining projects, to hold oil companies accountable for their environmental destruction, and more. These actions have often been successful in forcing governments to act in defense of their people.
In response, corporations and their political allies have assembled a powerful arsenal of legal weapons in their defense. Among the most dangerous is the growing global web of international investment agreements (IIAs) and the international tribunals empowered to enforce them. These agreements, tribunals and other legal tools form the architecture of impunity that allows transnational corporations to bypass local and national legal systems.
Today the nations of the world are covered by a web of nearly three thousand bilateral and multinational trade and investment agreements. A key provision in many of these allows corporations to sue governments over public interest policies and actions that reduce the value of their investments. The number of these 'investor- state' legal actions has exploded in recent years. In just one of the tribunal systems, the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the number of cases has jumped by more than 400% since 2000.
In cases argued by a handful of lawyers behind closed doors, and where the people affected are unable to speak, countries have been ordered to pay transnational corporations hundreds of millions of dollars, not just for damages but for the supposed future profits they have lost. The aim is not just to drain public treasuries but also to chill the willingness of governments to act in the public's defense.
There is only one way to challenge and dismantle this system of dangerous weapons being deployed against social justice and the health of the planet. That is to get informed and to join together across movements and national boundaries to challenge the international investment regime.
The following set of cases shows the system in action and how it is impacting the issues we care about. The final section highlights what needs to be done to change the system and how you can get involved.
Produced in the framework of the EU funded project Just Trade (www.just-trade.org). The Project advocates for greater policy coherence between EU development and trade policy, with a view to promote equitable and sustainable development.