Unfair, Unsustainable, and Under the Radar

How Corporations use Global Investment Rules to Undermine A Sustainable Future


This paper from the Democracy Center sheds an urgent public light on the system of international investment rules and arbitration tribunals that is being used by corporations to undermine citizen and government action on a range of urgent social and environmental issues.

(La versión en español se encuentra aquí)

Groups all across the world are grappling with the challenge of the 21st century: how to meet the demand for the social and economic development that will allow people to meet their needs and fulfil their potential while avoiding dangerous and irreversible environmental changes.  While we do this we need to be aware that there are powerful pressures pushing in exactly the opposite direction. In ‘Unfair, Unsustainable, and Under the Radar’, the Democracy Center sheds an urgent light on the system of international investment rules that is giving corporations the power to compromise countries’ sovereign right to regulate in the public good through a democratic process.

We look at how the international investment rules system is being used to punish El Salvador for blocking poisonous gold mining, against Germany for stopping nuclear power, and to attack public health regulations for the tobacco industry in Uruguay. And we flag the next target for the system: government ability to regulate ‘fracking’.

Unfortunately, wide knowledge of this system and how it works doesn’t really exist beyond a small collection of lawyers and advocates. Published in May 2013 this report explains what seems to many a highly technical issue for a non-technical audience, and in so doing aims to help put a much wider public spotlight on this corporate power grab while there is still time to fight it.

The Democracy Center is well-versed in this system. We helped fight and beat Bechtel when it used the World Bank’s investment dispute tribunal to sue Bolivia for $50 million (off a $1 million investment) after the Cochabamba Water Revolt. Supporting citizen action against corporate power has been a cornerstone of our work for many years and together with IPS Washington we now coordinate the Network for Justice in Global Investment to analyse and challenge this latest weapon being deployed by corporations against communities and the planet.

“This new report by the Democracy Center is a must read for those who want to understand how investment protection treaties are the ultimate weapon for corporations. With a fresh analysis, the report exposes the potential of these agreements in undermining the objectives of sustainable development as expressed by most governments during the Rio+20 Summit. It is a must read for social and environmental justice campaigners.”

– Cecilia Olivet, Project Coordinator, the Transnational Institute

Under_the_Radar_cover_working_fileRead and download the report

Read and download the summary

“Essential reading for anyone interested in the incentive structure for sustainable development. This report unpacks the complexity of trade and green economics by zooming in on a specific blockage for governments interested in moving forward on a more sustainable path.”

– Gina Lucarelli, UNDP


Campaign Action

To learn more about some of the ongoing citizen actions against unfair, unsustainable and under the radar investor-state arbitration cases, check the following:

Doe Run vs. Peru: Find out more on the campaign by communities affected by Doe Run’s operations in La Oroya in southern Peru, and how the corporation is using the investment rules system to avoid accountability to the Peruvian people.

Phillip Morris vs. Uruguay: For more on the campaign against the tobacco industry’s use of the investment rules system to attack public health legislation in Uruguay, see REDES and Just Investment.

Pacific Rim vs. El Salvador: Find out more on the international action campaigns and local initiatives in El Salvador to protect the country’s water sources from Canadian mining interests and how Pacific Rim is using the investment rules system against the Salvadoran people.

Beating Goliath

See ‘Beating Goliath‘, our resource for anti-corporate campaigners, for case studies and information on tactics and strategy when it comes to challenging corporate abuses and winning.


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