Getting Action: More Powerful than Governments

How corporations use global investment rules to get around democracy

by Jim Shultz 

Corporations have too much power.

We should be able to decide in our own communities whether we want to risk a polluted river in exchange for the promise of some gold. We should expect our governments to take on the tobacco industry to help keep kids from smoking. Those are exactly the kind of choices that democracy should decide, not effectively handed to corporations that have no interest in our interest.

We know this of course. So all over the world citizens organize and advocate for laws to protect us from corporate abuse. Sometimes we do win and get the law on our side.  Corporations know this.  In reply they have steadily and slowly built a counter-strategy while most people weren’t looking. That counter-strategy is called ‘global investment rules’ and it has been very successful for them.

Here is how it works. National governments across the world have been busily spinning a complex web of global trade agreements with one another, sometimes in groups (NAFTA) and sometimes just country-to-country. In many of these accords, beneath all the rhetoric of “job creation, opening up markets, etc.” lies a little known bill of legal rights for global corporations. Those rights include giving corporations the right to sue a government in a global trade court if it isn’t happy with some effort that government has undertaken to protect the public.

There they can extract from that nation’s taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, ten and twenty times their actual investment. In the Bechtel case against Bolivia after the Water Revolt the corporation demanded a $50 million payment based on an investment of $1 million. This threat, in turn, can scare governments into making policy decisions based less on what serves the public and more on what keeps global legal threats at bay. This is not about protecting legitimate investor rights. It is a new corporate game that offers truly awesome returns on investment at the expense of everyone else.

The video here, produced by The Democracy Center and Institute for Policy Studies through the Network on Justice in Global Investment, is a good ten-minute primer on global investment rules, told by our friends working on this issue around the world.  We hope you will watch it, pass it on to others, and send along any inspirations of genius you have about how to get many, many people to see it.


Watch the video in Spanish


Thank you always for your interest!

Jim Shultz

The Democracy Center


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4 Responses to Getting Action: More Powerful than Governments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh, my! I almost choked my delicious corporate Starbucks latte and spilled its contents on my even more popular corporate Ipad.

    Corporations have too much power? Last time I checked, corporations don’t have thousands/millions of armed and trained to kill individuals nor have the power to tax/confiscate whomever they please. Governments do.

  2. Chasqui says:

    Nice to see that you’re blogging again. Let’s hope the trolls stay away this time.

    A counter argument:

    • Jefferson says:

      thank you much, Catharine. I can’t wait for the book to come out, eetihr. Looks like an october release. Right now I’m working with the mapmaker and an illustrator. If you liked that excerpt, I think you’re gonna dig it.

  3. Larissa says:

    One more onion layer dpeeer, it is curious to note that the same people who are disenfranchised and adversely affected by factory farms and heavy gov subsidies are the ones that are voting for them in the first place (ala “What’s the Matter with Kansas” by Thomas Frank)… oh great, now you have me talking like a college person again