Cleansing the souls of the international arbitration industry

“It’s alright, sarge, they’re just about to exorcise the building” mutters a policeman over his walkie-talkie.

Heads turn and protest takes on new life when Reverend Billy’s in town. Ranks of city workers stopped to film the proceedings and the Stop Shopping Choir showed their tuneful talent as the evil from King & Spalding International LLP was driven from the building before them.

Global Justice Now was delighted to team up with Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir to help to draw attention to the proposed EU-USA free trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and more specifically Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). King & Spalding are big players in the world of investment arbitration, they have represented corporates suing the Argentine state on more than 15 occasions. They once extracted a $185 million payment from the impoverished country after the company that ran the water and sewage system was blamed for and algae breakout in the water system they ran in 2000. King & Spalding have also represented Chevron against the government of Ecuador, over their refusal to accept a ruling that said that must pay for decades of pollution. The case has been lambasted as “egregious misuse” of investment arbitration to evade justice.

Perhaps most famously at present, King & Spalding are representing Veolia, the French waste / water / energy company, as they sue the Egyptian Government for raising the minimum wage. The argument is, in a nutshell, that Veolia have invested a lot of resources in developing their operations in Egypt, and a significant rise in the minimum wage would adversely affect the profits expected by Veolia. However, more details are not available as the case is shrouded in secrecy.

Somewhat unsurprisingly investor protection is proving to be the biggest bone of contention in TTIP. Standing giving out leaflets about it in the heart of the city of London brought it home how ridiculous ISDS really is. Capitalism, we are asked to believe was forged by risk takers and entrepreneurs, putting their money into schemes and potentially dangerous ideas which could fail, but if the scheme succeeds, could bring them untold riches. In the twenty first century capitalism allows that gamble but underwrites the bet, saying under many circumstances a losing bet will be reimbursed and more than that, the expected winnings could even be paid out by the Government you could pin the blame on. Welcome to the era of risk-free entrepreneurialism!

Despite an obvious expertise in the field of investor arbitration, King & Spalding have rarely taken the opportunity to represent a government. On the current list of Investment Arbitrations listed on their website, King & Spalding have represented the claimant (or corporation) against the state concerned in 49 out of the 51 listed cases. You could be forgiven for thinking there’s some kind of ideological preference at work here.

It's not clear whether the executives of King & Spalding got on their knees and presented themselves naked before the Lord on Thursday as Reverend Billy commanded them to.

What we do know is there is a tremendous battle over the soul of TTIP – the very presence of ISDS - and that the wind is blowing against those in favour of filling corporate coffers at the expense of governments and taxpayers. If we can continue to exert pressure on the negotiations and the politicians and bring in more and more people to the campaign, we stand every chance of defeating TTIP. We can defeat it as a whole or we can defeat it by dealing a crippling blow to a key component – many high ranking officials have said that there can be no TTIP without ISDS.  NoTTIPalujah!

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir are performing on Saturday night in London at Wiltons Music Hall.

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