630 civil society groups warn of corporate threats to sue governments over actions taken to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic
June 25, 2020, Media Release: “An open letter endorsed by 630 international and national civil society organisations has been sent to Trade Minister Birmingham, warning him that Australia could face a wave of cases from global corporations claiming millions in compensation for actions taken to respond to the pandemic. Corporations can do this using rules in trade deals known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS,” AFTINET Convener Dr Patricia Ranald said today.
“ISDS cases are heard by international tribunals that are not independent and are mainly concerned about whether the corporation has suffered a loss, not whether the government action was in the public interest. Governments generally have to pay millions in legal costs even if they win. The US Philip Morris tobacco company lost its ISDS case against Australia’s tobacco plain packaging law but the case took seven years and cost $12 million to defend.,” said Dr Ranald
Peru has already been threatened with an ISDS case by private road toll operators because it cancelled road tolls to ease transport of essential goods during the pandemic.
Law firms like Aceris Law are advising corporations of possible cases, saying “While States may invoke force majeure and a state of necessity to justify their actions, as observed in previous crises that were economic in nature, these defences may not always succeed”.
“The letter asks the Trade Minister to cooperate with trading partners to withdraw consent from ISDS provisions to prevent a wave of cases from global corporations suing governments for millions because they took actions to save lives. We also want governments to remove ISDS from agreements in the longer term,“ said Dr Ranald.
The organisations endorsing the letter represent hundreds of millions of people and include:
- international and regional union confederations including the International Trade Union Confederation, Public Services International, IndustriALL, and the International Union of Foodworkers.
- global health networks such as the Peoples’ Health Movement, Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign and the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition.
- other international groups such as Oxfam, Greenpeace, the European Environmental Bureau, the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development and the Arab NGO Network for Development.
- in Australia, AFTINET, the ACTU, ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, the Public Health Association of Australia and the Sisters of Charity.
The letter to the Trade Minister is attached.