Unfair, unsustainable, and under the radar

Unfair, Unsustainable, and Under the Radar

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 21st century : 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
Check out this article just published in Alternet
Listen to an interview with author Thomas Mc Donagh on FSRN
Watch this quick video about global investment rules :

If you are looking for an interview, would be interested in an article on this topic, or would like to discuss any aspect of this issue further with us, please contact Maddy Ryle or Thomas Mc Donagh

About Us

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.

Further Reading

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.