The secret courts the government doesn’t want you to know about…
While trade is in the news nearly every day, few know about the government’s plans to include a controversial court system called ISDS in trade deals after Brexit, giving big business powers to sue poor countries for millions. But as more and more people find out, our voice for change is growing. Traidcraft Exchange's Emilie Schultze shares her motivation behind the campaign.
Campaigning on trade can be challenging. When the focus is on issues with complicated acronyms it’s arguably even harder. But there is a reason we do what we do. For me it’s the knowledge that there’s something profoundly unfair about the way the world works and a belief that, together, we can do something about it.
My campaigning journey started five years ago when I found out about a trade deal called TTIP. Yes, it had an acronym, and yes, the name itself was even more off-putting: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. But the principles were clear.
Negotiated between the EU and the US, TTIP represented a dangerous new type of trade agreement that, among other things, would drive down food and environmental standards and open up public services to privatisation. But there was one thing that stood out and caused the most widespread outcry – a secretive court system called ISDS.
ISDS, or investor-state dispute settlement, is a system that allows foreign investors to sue countries for millions if those countries’ governments put in place policies that might threaten company profits. It hands power to some of the most powerful economic players to challenge governments and decisions taken by national courts.
For example, in Ecuador decades of oil-drilling in the Amazon rainforest by oil giant Texaco (bought by Chevron in 2001) destroyed the livelihoods of indigenous people and small-holder farmers. After an 18 year-long legal battle, the communities finally won the right to compensation through the Ecuadorian courts. But instead of paying, Chevron took a case to an ISDS tribunal which earlier this year overruled Ecuador’s constitutional court and ordered them to pay Chevron millions in compensation.
This is just one of 900 ISDS lawsuits, so far. The vast majority have targeted poorer countries, and this, for measures such as protecting the environment, clamping down on tax avoidance, raising the minimum wage or defending the rights of indigenous people. And behind the scenes, companies are using ISDS as a threat to force governments to water down or drop policies that get in the way of their profits – effectively undermining democracy and decisions in the public interest.
That’s why I campaign to put an end to ISDS. It’s about standing up for human rights, putting our planet above profit and defending democracy. In the end it goes back to the core values for our society and the kind of world we want to live in.
There is still time to stop ISDS, but we need to act now. The government wants to silently include ISDS in post-Brexit trade and investment deals, and once we leave the EU things could move very quickly. So, let’s kick up a fuss and show them that people in the UK don’t want this unfair system.
I started to campaign against TTIP because of the future threat of ISDS courts. But for poorer countries, ISDS is a reality right now. So please join me and sign the petition to the government, share it with friends and tell others about this issue.
The more people who find out about ISDS, the stronger our voice for change will be.
Emilie Schultze is the Campaigns Officer for Traidcraft Exchange