I think it appeared as a cartoon in my facebook feed. It said something to the effect that the third world war is on and it not being fought through tanks, but through banks. The lament that corporations are the imperial powers of the 21st century has become almost clichéd. So clichéd indeed that we think these claims are exaggerated. Well – these pithy truisms are much closer to reality than the effectiveness of the latest weight-loss diet you have been recommended. The article I have selected for this week disturbingly points out one such system, using which corporations are not only able to undermine the sovereignty of nations but are turning these disputes into “asset-classes” against which they can raise money, not to fight the case, but to expand their business, while the states are so threatened that even democratically elected governments are not able to do right by their people.
The cases discussed in the article have mostly resulted in settlements or judgements that completely disregard the health, safety, social, economic and climate-change conditions of the people in these countries. And to top it all, all this has been done in the name of development. These investor-state dispute systems, one of which was created by the World Bank despite protests from almost every Latin American country, Philippines and Iraq, were supposed to help in the growth of developing and underdeveloped countries “by creating a welcome environment for international investments”. These were supposed to be “fair, impartial” mechanisms to resolve disputes. The reality is turning out to be bleak.
Corporations from developed countries are just have more support and are more adept at using these systems to their advantage than the states they are dealing with. Even in the rare cases that the state wins, the cost of dispute itself is too heavy for them to recover from. Read the complete article on The Guardian to get an idea of just how deep the rut is.