Popular Resistance - A new study confirms what many activists have suspected for a long time: The private courts set up by international “trade” deals heavily favor billionaires and giant corporations, and they do so at the expense of governments and people.
Smaller companies and less-wealthy individuals don’t benefit nearly as much from these private courts as the extremely rich and powerful do. Other interested parties - whether they’re governments, children, working people, or the planet itself – are unable to benefit from these private courts at all.
The “investor-state dispute settlement” process, or ISDS, is built into treaties like NAFTA and the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership. It allows foreign investors to sue participating governments if they do anything that harms their investment in that nation. Corporations can sue governments through this process, but governments can’t sue corporations.
As Todd Tucker pointed out in the Washington Post, a “wide range of policies can be challenged” under ISDS: “Argentina has had its macroeconomic policies challenged, Australia its anti-smoking efforts, (and) Costa Rica its environmental preservation laws.”
Suits are not brought through a normal, public court process. Instead, they are heard before private panels of arbitrators, often made up of attorneys who represent corporations as part of their practice. These hearings are conducted under rules set up by independent arbitration bodies that include the International Chamber of Commerce.
Activists have been arguing for a long time that this process is unfairly skewed toward powerful corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals. Now there is data to back up that opinion. A new study published by York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto has concluded that
“the beneficiaries of ISDS … have overwhelmingly been companies with more than $1 billion per year in annual revenue – especially extra-large companies with more than $10 billion – and individuals with more than $100 million in net wealth.”
Virtually all of the financial benefits of the ISDS have gone to the rich and powerful. Nearly 95 percent of all award money went to giant corporations or extremely wealthy individuals.
The statistics in the Osgoode study are startling at times. Those “extra-large” corporations of $10 billion or more in revenue won 70.8 percent of the time, while others were only successful 42.2 percent of the time. They won in the “merits” stage of their hearings 82.9 percent of the time, versus a 57.9 percent success rate for everyone else.