Investment agreements or vulture’s charters?

31 October 2013

The biggest shareholder in Royal Mail is now a multi-billion pound hedge fund known as The Children’s Investment Fund (TCI). Sounds nice, but TCI is actually an aggressive ‘investor’ which took India to court for trying to put India’s economic development ahead of TCI’s profits. 

Back in 2010, India sold shares in public energy company, Coal India. TCI bought up a lot of these shares and then started trying to change the way coal was priced in India – insisting that coal prices be left to the market rather than be kept low by the government. Higher coal prices would make a higher return for shareholders. 

Not finding a sympathetic ear among the Coal India board or the Indian government, TCI threatened to take India to court under a bilateral investment agreement between India and Britain. 

Investment agreements have been harshly criticised by trade campaigners such as the World Development Movement for allowing corporate 'rights' to run roughshod over the rights of ordinary people. TCI offers a case in point: effectively a private foreign fund was able to challenge the government of India to stop it providing inexpensive energy to businesses it wanted to develop. 

Whether India’s policy was right or wrong is beside the point. Rather we have to ask whether it is the right of a British hedge fund to dictate the energy policy of a state. This is by no means an isolated example. Globally there are 2,833 bilateral investment agreements, many offering companies access to ‘dispute mechanisms’ which allow them to by-pass national courts and uphold their so-called rights over and above the duty of governments to protect and represent their citizens.

Back home, the owner of TCI, Chris Hohn, is one of the biggest ‘philanthro-capitalists’ in the world, investing profits in a mega-charity the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. Even if multi-billionaire philanthropists could solve world poverty, they will certainly not do so when their profits are derived by undermining the sovereignty of countries to represent their own people.   

The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation was a major sponsor of David Cameron’s flawed ‘hunger summit’ earlier in the year. Much criticised by the World Development Movement, this conference pushed forward the new scramble for Africa’s food system which will be the subject of our upcoming campaign. 

Meanwhile, TCI’s investment in Royal Mail should give everyone who uses the post office pause for thought. We already know that Vince Cable has overseen a firesale of Royal Mail at below market value, at great cost to the British taxpayer. Add on its record in India, and we should be in no doubt that TCI will operate in its own interests rather than those of the British public. But then this is what privatisation of national assets it all about. And why we should oppose it.



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