For two decades the Democracy Center’s work has been based on one fundamental principle: that citizens everywhere in the world have the right to influence the public decisions that impact their lives. That is what real democracy means. In my work with citizen activists across the U.S., Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia I have seen up close the many threats to that right – armed soldiers in Bolivia, mountains of corporate campaign cash in the U.S., the repression of civil rights in Vietnam, and more.
The Democracy Center has just released a report that documents a new, rising menace to democracy that threatens us all, regardless of country. That threat comes from the growing web of international investment rules used by multinational corporations to undermine and overturn citizen victories on everything from environmental protection to public health. Under that system a Canadian mining company is suing the people of El Salvador for prohibiting the dumping of toxic chemicals into their drinking water. Phillip Morris, the tobacco giant, is suing Uruguay and Australia for adding strict health warnings to cigarette packaging. Germany faces a billion dollar legal assault over introducing a moratorium on nuclear power.
All of this is taking place under a system that is growing year by year and is set to become even more powerful under the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership being negotiated in secret by the Obama administration. Our new report is called Unfair, Unsustainable, and Under the Radar: How Corporations use Global Investment Rules to Undermine a Sustainable Future. Last week I was in New York and spoke about the report and this rising threat with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. You can watch that interview here. Our publication announcement is below, with links to the report, an accompanying article we just published on AlterNet and other material.
From the demand for clean water to the movement for action on climate change – all of this is threatened by a system designed to put global corporations in the driver’s seat. I hope that you will take time to look at our new report and to pass on the announcement below via email, Facebook, Twitter, and old-fashioned word-of mouth. It is democracy that is under fire and we need to rise to its defense.
The Democracy Center
Announcing: New Report from the Democracy Center
A new 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.
“With this new report, the Democracy Center brings us conclusive evidence and analysis that show the inherent incompatibility between sustainable development and international investment rules. It is a must read for social and environmental justice campaigners.”
– Cecilia Olivet, Project Coordinator, the Transnational Institute
Citizens and governments everywhere are grappling with the challenge of the 21stcentury: how to allow people to lift themselves out of poverty while respecting the natural boundaries of the earth. However, at the same time multinational corporations are spinning a web of power that threatens our ability to take even basic actions toward sustainable development. This is being done by means of thousands of little-known trade and investment agreements that corporations are using to compromise countries’ sovereign right to regulate in the public good.
“Trade and investment agreements allow these corporations to be above our national sovereignty and even our country’s constitution”
– Francisco Pineda (El Salvador),
Goldman Prize recipient 2011
The paper shows how the 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 – along with many other similar cases. And we flag the next target for the system: government ability to regulate ‘fracking’.
“Current international investment rules encourage governments to attract foreign investment by any means necessary – regardless of the costs for long-term sustainability and democracy.”
– Sarah Anderson,
Global Economy Project Director,
Institute for Policy Studies
Under the Radar
Unfortunately, wide knowledge of this system and how it works doesn’t really exist beyond a small collection of lawyers and advocates. Our paper aims to help put a much wider public spotlight on this corporate power grab while there is still time to fight it.
“Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”
– Juan Fernández-Armesto,
arbitrator from Spain
Find out more
- Read and download the paper
- The paper is also available in Spanish
- Watch an interview with director Jim Shultz on Democracy Now!
- Check out this article in Alternet
- Listen to an interview with author Thomas Mc Donagh on FSRN
- Watch this quick video about global investment rules:
Get in Touch
The Democracy Center is well-versed in this system. We helped beat Bechtel when it used the World Bank’s trade tribunal to sue Bolivia for $50 million 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.
Our partners at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington recently published an updated version of their ‘Mining for Profits’ report which goes into further detail about how mining, oil and gas corporations are using the system of investment rules and arbitration tribunals to subvert government attempts to regulate these industries.
Take a look at ‘Profiting from Injustice’, the new report from our colleagues at the Transnational Institute and the Corporate Europe Observatory, which reveals the small club of international law firms, arbitrators and financial speculators fuelling an investment arbitration boom that is costing taxpayers billions of dollars and preventing legislation in the public interest.