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To Governments:

We are writing to you today to urge you to take a lead in ensuring countries around the world do not face a wave of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) cases arising from actions taken to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis.

Globally, some governments are taking actions to save lives, stem the pandemic, protect jobs, counter economic disaster and ensure peoples’ basic needs are met. The level of these actions has been unprecedented in modern times and the need for these actions has been clear. But the expansive reach of the ISDS system could open such critical government actions to claims for millions in compensation from foreign investors. The numbers of such claims could also be unprecedented and impose massive financial burdens on governments struggling under the burden of devastating health and economic crises.

ISDS in various forms is written into many trade and investment agreements. It allows foreign investors – and foreign investors alone – to sue governments in secretive tribunals outside of the national legal system for amounts far higher than are likely to be available to them in domestic courts. 

The lawyers, who profit enormously from the ISDS system, are already fishing for corporate clients interested in using ISDS tribunals to extract large sums from governments over actions they have taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Law firms,[1]trade experts,[2] UN bodies[3] and human rights experts[4] have already predicted an imminent wave of ISDS cases. Specialist law journals have speculated that: “the past few weeks may mark the beginning of a boom” of ISDS cases.[5] Crisis situations in the past, such as the Argentine financial crisis or the Arab Spring, have led to many cases. 

Cases could arise from actions that many governments have taken, such as those with the aim of:

  • restricting and closing business activities to limit the spread of the virus and protect workers
  • securing resources for health systems by requisitioning use of private hospital facilities, putting private healthcare providers under public control, or requiring manufacturers to produce ventilators
  • mandating relief from mortgage payments or rent for households and businesses
  • preventing foreign takeovers of strategic businesses stricken by the crisis 
  • ensuring access to clean water for hand-washing and sanitation by freezing utility bills and suspending disconnections
  • ensuring medicines, tests and vaccines are affordable
  • debt restructuring

The damage from a COVID-related wave of ISDS cases could be immense. From among the 1,023 known ISDS cases, thirteen have resulted in awards or settlements of more than US$1billion, including for lost future profits.[6] By the end of 2018, states worldwide had been ordered or agreed to pay investors in publicly known ISDS cases the amount of US$88 billion.[7] Some developing countries have billions outstanding in pending ISDS claims.

At a time when government resources are stretched to the limit in responding to the crisis, public money should not be diverted from saving lives, jobs and livelihoods into paying ISDS awards or legal fees to fight a claim. And given that the battle against COVID-19 will continue, a spate of cases now could result in a ‘regulatory chilling’ effect, in which governments water down, postpone or withdraw actions to tackle the pandemic from the fear of such payments, which could be deadly. 

In order to prevent this, we urge governments to immediately and urgently take the following steps, before the first cases are brought: 

  1. Permanently restrict the use of ISDS in all its forms in respect of claims that the state considers to concern COVID-19 related measures.
  2. Suspend all ISDS cases on any issue against any government while it is fighting COVID-19 crises, when capacity needs to be focussed on the pandemic response.
  3. Ensure that no public money is spent paying corporations for ISDS awards during the pandemic. 
  4. Stop negotiating, signing, and or ratifying any new agreements that include ISDS. 
  5. Terminate existing agreements with ISDS, ensuring that ‘survival clauses’ do not allow cases to be brought subsequently.
  6. In light of threats exposed by the pandemic, comprehensively review existing agreements that include ISDS to see if they are fit for purpose.

More information on how to implement these actions is available in the annex to this letter.

We urge you to take immediate action to ensure that the duty of governments to regulate in the public interest is safeguarded and put beyond the scope of ISDS claims.

Signed (annex below),

International and regional organisations

  2. ActionAid
  3. Africa Europe Faith & Justice Network
  4. Amigos de la Tierra América Latina y el Caribe – ATALC
  5. Arab NGO Network for Development
  6. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development (APWLD)
  7. Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD)
  8. AWID
  11. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
  12. CIDSE
  13. Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM)
  14. Confederación Sindical de trabajadoras/es de las Américas (CSA)
  15. DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era)
  16. Econews Africa
  17. Emmaüs International
  18. European Attac Network
  19. European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC)
  20. European Environmental Bureau
  21. European Federation of Public Service Unions
  22. European Network Against the Privatization and Commercialization of Health and Social Protection / Réseau européen contre la privatisation et la commercialisation de la santé et de la protection sociale
  23. Focus on the Global South
  24. Food & Water Action Europe
  25. Friends of the Earth Europe
  26. Friends of the Earth International
  27. Gender and Trade Coalition
  28. Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG)
  29. Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM)
  30. Global Policy Forum
  31. GRAIN
  32. Greenpeace
  33. Health Action International
  34. Health Global Access Project
  35. IndustriALL Global Union
  36. Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Loreto Generalate
  37. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW)
  38. International Association of People’s Lawyers
  39. International Baby Food Action Network
  40. International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)
  41. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC )
  42. International Treatment Preparedness Coalition
  43. International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF)
  44. International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific
  45. Latindadd – Red Latinoamericana por Justicia Económica y Social
  46. Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign
  47. Moana Nui
  48. Oxfam International
  49. Pacific Network on Globalisation
  50. Peoples Health Movement
  51. Plataforma América Latina mejor sin TLC
  52. Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER)
  53. Public Services International – Interamerica
  54. Public Services International (PSI)
  55. Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary JPIC / NGO
  56. REPEM -LAC
  57. RIPESS – Red Intercontinental de Promotion de l’Economia Social Solidaria
  58. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Justice Team
  59. Social Watch
  60. Society for International Development (SID)
  61. Soroptimist International
  62. SumOfUs
  63. Tax Justice Network
  64. Third World Network
  65. Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Africa)
  66. UNI Américas
  67. United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society
  68. UNMGCY (United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth)
  69. Urgenci International Community Suppported Agriculture Network
  70. WeMove Europe
  71. WIDE+ (Women In Development Europe+) gender and trade WG
  72. WoMin
  73. WoMin African Alliance
  74. World Rainforest Movement


  1. Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, Aotearoa / New Zealand
  2. GE Free NZ in Food and environment, Aotearoa / New Zealand
  3. Its Our Future, Aotearoa / New Zealand
  4. New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU), Aotearoa / New Zealand
  5. New Zealand Social Credit Party, Aotearoa / New Zealand
  6. Sustainable Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa / New Zealand
  7. Acción por la Biodiversidad, Argentina
  8. Amigos de la Tierra Argentina, Argentina
  9. Asamblea Argentina mejor sin TLC, Argentina
  10. Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca, Argentina
  11. Asociacion Ciudadana por los Derechos Humanos, Argentina
  12. ATTAC Argentina, Argentina
  14. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Argentina
  15. Colectivo de Estudios e Investigaciones Sociales (CEISO), Argentina
  16. Confederación de Trabajadores Municipales (CTM), Argentina
  17. Confederacion General del Trabajo de la Republica Argentina , Argentina
  18. CTA Autónoma, Argentina
  19. Diálogo 2000-Jubileo Sur Argentina, Argentina
  20. Foro Ciudadanode Participación por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos FOCO, Argentina
  21. FSM, Argentina
  22. Fundación ECOSUR, Argentina
  23. Fundación GEP, Argentina
  24. Fundacion para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer , Argentina
  25. Iniciativa Arcoiris de Ecología Politica, Argentina
  26. Instituto del Mundo del Trabajo Julio Godio, Argentina
  27. Multisectorial Antiextractivista, Argentina
  28. Ong ALERTA ANGOSTURA , Argentina
  30. Red de Defensoras del Ambiente y el Buen Vivir, Argentina
  31. Center for Development of Civil Society, Armenia
  32. Confidence Health NGO, Armenia
  33. ActionAid Australia, Australia
  34. Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australia
  35. Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, Australia
  36. Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, Australia
  37. Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, Australia
  38. Australians for Justice, Australia
  39. Bougainville Freedom Movement, Australia
  40. Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace, Australia
  41. ClimActs, Australia
  42. Data Stream Pty Limited, Australia
  43. Food Intolerance Network, Australia
  44. Frenchs Forest Catholic Parish Social Justice Group, Australia
  45. Friends of the Earth Adelaide, Australia
  46. Friends of the Earth Australia, Australia
  47. GeneEthics, Australia
  48. Grail Global Justice Network, Australia
  49. Locals Into Victoria’s Environment, Australia
  50. Loreto Sisters Justice Network, Australia
  51. Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre, Australia
  52. Mundaring in Transition, Australia
  53. Music Trust, Australia
  54. Nature First, Australia
  55. Pesticide Action Group of Western Australia, Australia
  56. Public Health Association of Australia, Australia
  57. SEARCH Foundation, Australia
  58. Sisters of Charity, Australia
  59. SJ Around the Bay, Australia
  60. Sutherland Shire Environment Centre, Australia
  61. Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA , Australia
  62. Allianz gerechter Handel, Austria
  63. Anders Handeln, Austria
  64. Attac Austria, Austria
  65. Center for Encounter and Active Non-Violence, Austria
  66. International Fellowship of Reconciliation Austria, Austria
  67. transform!at, Austria
  68. Welthaus Diözese Graz-Seckau, Austria
  69. WIDE, Austria
  70. younion – Die Daseinsgewerkschaft, Austria
  71. AK EUROPA (Chamber of Labour Austria), Austria
  72. Aid Organization, Bangladesh
  73. Bangladesh Krishok Federation , Bangladesh
  74. ELA, Basque Country
  75. 11.11.11, Belgium
  76. Broederlijk Delen, Belgium
  77. CGSP ALR, Belgium
  78. CNCD-11.11.11, Belgium
  79. Corporate Europe Observatory, Belgium
  80. Entraide et Fraternité , Belgium
  81. FIAN Belgium, Belgium
  82. FOS, Belgium
  83. Le Monde selon les femmes asbl, Belgium
  84. Links Ecologisch Forum – Forum Gauche Ecoliogie, Belgium
  85. Solsoc, Belgium
  86. Viva Salud, Belgium
  87. WSM , Belgium
  88. MOC Mouvement Ouvrier Chrétien, Belgium
  89. Social Watch Bénin, Benin
  90. ANAPA, Bolivia
  91. Coordinadora de la Mujer, Bolivia
  92. TerraJusta, Bolivia
  93. Centar za zivotnu sredinu/ Friends of the Earth Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  94. Adufms, Brazil
  95. Aliança RECOs – Redes de Cooperação Comunitária Sem Fronteiras, Brazil
  96. Central de Movimento Popular de Pernambuco, Brazil
  99. Confederação dos Trabalhadores no Serviço Público Municipal – Confetam/CUT, Brazil
  101. FONASC, Brazil
  102. Fórum Sindical de AP, RR e RO, Brazil
  103. Gestos (soropositividade, comunicação, gênero), Brazil
  104. IBFAN Brasil, Brazil
  105. Instituto Oca do Sol, Brazil
  106. Instituto Políticas Alternativas para o Cone Sul (PACS), Brazil
  107. Internacional de Serviços Públicos, Brazil
  108. Movimento Ciencia Cidadã Brasil, Brazil
  109. Movimento Mulheres pela P@Z!, Brazil
  110. Movimento Negro Unificado de Pernambuco, Brazil
  111. Movimento Ouro Preto pela Infância , Brazil
  112. Observatório da Cidadania Dom José Alves da Costa, Brazil
  113. Observatório da Mulher, Brazil
  114. Organização de Cidadania, Cultura e Ambiente (OCCA Pantanal), Brazil
  115. REBRIP- Rede Brasileira de Integração dos Povos , Brazil
  116. Sindicato dos Psicólogos do Estado de São Paulo, Brazil
  117. SINDSEP AP, Brazil
  118. SINDSEP PE, Brazil
  119. Avtonomna Rabotnicheska Konfederacija – ARK (Autonomous Worker’s Confederation), Bulgaria
  120. Federation of Trade Unions – Health services – CITUB, Bulgaria
  121. Za Zemiata, FoE Bulgaria, Bulgaria
  122. ALTSEAN-Burma, Burma
  123. DUKINGIRE ISI YACU, Burundi
  124. SFBSP-Burundi, Burundi
  125. Terre des Jeunes du Burundi, Burundi
  126. Social Action for Community and Development , Cambodia
  127. Women’s Network for Unity, Cambodia
  128. Worker’s Information Center (WIC), Cambodia
  129. Africa Development Interchange Network (ADIN), Cameroon
  130. Cadire Cameroon Association, Cameroon
  131. Federation of Environmental and Ecological Diversity for Agricultural Revampment and Human Rights (FEEDAR & HR), Cameroon
  132. Gender Empowerment and Developmemt – GeED, Cameroon
  133. Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé, Canada
  134. AmiEs de Terre de Québec, Canada
  135. ATTAC-Québec, Canada
  136. Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Canada
  137. Centrale des syndicats démocratiques (CSD), Canada
  138. Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (CDHAL), Canada
  139. Conseil central du Montréal métropolitain-CSN, Canada
  140. Council of Canadians, Canada
  141. MiningWatch Canada, Canada
  142. National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), Canada
  143. Réseau québécois sur l’intégration continentale, Canada
  144. Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec, Canada
  145. Unifor, Canada
  146. CSN, Canada
  147. Antimafia Chile, Chile
  148. Asociación Nacional de Funcionarios de Impuestos Internos de Chuile – ANEIICH, Chile
  149. Chile Mejor sin TLC, Chile
  150. CINTRAS. Centro de Salud Mental y Derechos Humanos, Chile
  151. Comisión de DDHH Colegio de Enfermeras de Chile, Chile
  152. Comunidad Ecuménica Martin Luther King, Chile
  153. Confederación General de Trabajadores (CGT), Chile
  154. Editorial Quimantu Chile, Chile
  155. Fundación Constituyente XXI, Chile
  156. Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales OLCA, Chile
  157. Plataforma Chile Mejor sin TLC, Chile
  158. Confederación de Trabajadores de Colombia – CTC, Colombia
  159. Emisora Comunitaria de Víctimas VCA, Colombia
  160. Federacion Seccional FECOTRASERVIPUBLIOCOS, Colombia
  161. Fundación IFARMA, Colombia
  162. Grupo Semillas, Colombia
  163. Internacional de Servicios Públicos (ISP) Países Andinos, Colombia
  164. ISP, Colombia
  165. Organización Artemisas, Colombia
  166. Fondation Eboko, Congo (Brazzaville)
  167. CAUSE RURALE, Congo (Kinshasa)
  168. Observatoire d’etudes et d’appui a la responsabilite sociale et environnementale ( OEARSE ), Congo (Kinshasa)
  169. Fundacion Justicia y Genero, Costa Rica
  170. PSI, Costa Rica
  171. World Vision LACC, Costa Rica
  172. Ekumenická akademie (Ecumenical Academy), Czech Republic
  173. Global Aktion, Denmark
  174. KULU-Women and Development, Denmark
  175. NOAH – Friends of the Earth Denmark, Denmark
  176. Confederación Nacional de Unidad Sindical (CNUS) , Dominican Republic
  177. SITRACORAASAN, Dominican Republic
  178. CEDEAL, Ecuador
  179. Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes Mozo S.J.” (CSMM), Ecuador
  180. FEDAEPS, Ecuador
  181. Frente Nacional por la Salud de los Pueblos del Ecuador (FNSPE), Ecuador
  182. red Ecuador Decide Mejor sin TLC, Ecuador
  183. UDAPT- Union of those affected by Texaco, Ecuador
  184. CESTA Amigos de la Tierra, El Salvador
  185. Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality, Fiji
  186. Finnish Asiatic Society, Finland
  187. Maan ystävät , Finland
  188. TTIP Network Finland, Finland
  189. Adéquations, France
  190. Aitec, France
  191. Alofa Tuvalu, France
  192. Amis de la Terre , France
  193. Association des Femmes de l Europe Meridionale (AFEM), France
  194. Attac France, France
  195. CADTM France, France
  196. CCFD-Terre Solidaire, France
  197. Collectif Stop CETA-TAFTA, France
  198. Comité Pauvreté et Politique, France
  199. Confederation Paysanne, France
  200. Coordination Nationale des comités de défense des hôpitaux et maternités de proximité, France
  201. Fédération Syndicat CFDT Santé Sociaux, France
  202. France Amérique Latine (FAL), France
  204. PHABRE, France
  205. ReAct, France
  206. Réseau Foi & Justice Afrique Europe antenne France, France
  207. SB-ECV, France
  208. Sciences Citoyennes , France
  209. Sherpa, France
  210. Veblen Institute, France
  211. Observatoire gabonais sur la responsabilité sociétale des entreprises, des administrations et des industries (OGARSEAI), Gabon
  212. African Women 4 Empowerment e. V., Germany
  213. Aktionsgruppe Babynahrung e.V., Germany
  214. Attac Germany, Germany
  215. BUKO Pharma-Kampagne, Germany
  216. BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), Germany
  217. Medico International, Germany
  218. Mehr Demokratie e.V. , Germany
  219. PowerShift e.V., Germany
  220. Pro REGENWALD e.V., Germany
  221. Stiftung Asienhaus, Germany
  222. Umweltinstitut München e.V., Germany
  223. Abibiman Foundation , Ghana
  224. AbibiNsroma Foundation , Ghana
  225. Alliance for Empowering Rural Communities (AERC-Ghana) , Ghana
  226. God’s Harvest Foundation , Ghana
  227. Consumer Association the Quality of Life-EKPIZO, Greece
  228. Nature Friends Greece, Greece
  229. CEGSS, Guatemala
  230. Consejo de Investigaciones en Desarrollo, Guatemala
  231. Coordinación de ONG y Cooperativas CONGCOOP, Guatemala
  232. SITRAINFOM, Guatemala
  233. Confederation des Travailleurs-euses des Secteurs Public et Prive (CTSP), Haiti
  234. Ligue Nationale des Enseignants Haitiens (LINEH), Haiti
  235. PAPDA, Haiti
  236. ANAFAE, Honduras
  237. CONROA, Honduras
  238. Clean Air Action Group, Hungary
  239. Egyetemi Zöld Kör , Hungary
  240. Fauna Alapítvány, Hungary
  241. Fenntarthatóság Felé Egyesület (Towards Sustainability Association), Hungary
  242. Fridays For Future Budapest, Hungary
  243. Gaja Environmental Non-governmental Organization , Hungary
  244. Hatodik Nap Egyesület , Hungary
  245. Hungarian Association of NGOs for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Hungary
  246. Hungarian Climate Alliance, Hungary
  247. Karátson Gábor Kör, Hungary
  248. Kisközösségi Program, Hungary
  249. Közép-Magyarországi Zöld Kör, Hungary
  250. Magosfa Foundation, Hungary
  251. Magyar Természetvédők Szövetsége / Friends of the Earh Hungary, Hungary
  252. Society of Women for the Lake Balaton, Hungary
  253. Tanácsadók a Fenntartható Fejlődésért, Hungary
  254. Védegylet Egyesület, Hungary
  255. Zöld Akció Egyesület (Green Action) , Hungary
  256. AINLIEF, India
  257. Amitava Guha, India
  258. Association For Promotion Sustainable Development, India
  259. Campaign for access to medicines, diagnostics and medical devices, India, India
  260. Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), India
  261. Food Sovereignty Alliance , India
  262. Ibn Sina Academy of Medieval Medicine and Sciences, India
  263. Indian Social Institute, India
  264. Initiative for Health & Equity in Society, India
  265. Innovative Alliance for Public Health , India
  266. IT for Change, India
  267. Lawyers Collective , India
  268. Madhyam, India
  269. Indonesia AIDS Coalition, Indonesia
  270. Indonesia for Global Justice, Indonesia
  271. KRuHA – people’s coalition for the right to water, Indonesia
  272. Solidaritas Perempuan, Indonesia
  273. Tammuz Org. for Social Development, Iraq
  274. Cobh Zero Waste, Ireland
  275. Comhlámh Trade Justice Group, Ireland
  276. Latin America Solidarity Centre (LASC), Ireland
  277. Peoples Movement – Gluaiseacht an Phobail, Ireland
  278. Trócaire, Ireland
  279. Coordinamento nord sud del mondo, Italy
  280. Effe Rivista Femminista, Italy
  281. Fairwatch, Italy
  282. MAG4 Piemonte sc, Italy
  283. MEDICINA DEMOCRATICA, onlus, Italy
  284. Partito Umanista, Italy
  285. Salviamo il Paesaggio, Italy
  286. Stop TTIP Italia, Italy
  287. Stop TTIP NordOvest, Italy
  288. Transform! Italia, Italy
  289. Tripla Difesa Onlus Internazional No Violence ODV, Italy
  290. Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers, Jamaica
  291. AM-net (Advocacy and Monitoring Network on Sustainable Development), Japan
  292. National Coalition for Joint Action to Stop the Second Stage of USJTA, Japan
  293. National Federation of Farmer’s Unions, Japan
  294. Pacific Asia Resource Center(PARC), Japan
  295. People’s Action against TPP, Japan
  296. Popoki Peace Project, Japan
  297. ZENROREN, National Confederation of Trade Unions, Japan
  298. Feminist League, Kazakhstan
  299. East African Tax and Governance Network , Kenya
  300. Haki Nawiri Afrika, Kenya
  301. International Relations Society of Kenya , Kenya
  302. Jamaa Resource Initiatives, Kenya
  303. PELUM Kenya , Kenya
  304. PA women’s organization Alga , Kyrgyzstan
  305. National Institution of Social Care and Vocational Training, Lebanon
  306. Policy Analysis and Research Institute of Lesotho , Lesotho
  307. Green Advocates International, Liberia
  308. National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL), Liberia
  309. Mouvement Ecologique, Luxembourg
  310. Centre for Social Concern and Development (CESOCODE) , Malawi
  311. Accessible and Affordable Medicines for All Malaysia (A2MAM), Malaysia
  312. Consumers Association of Penang, Malaysia
  313. EMPOWER Malaysia (Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor), Malaysia
  314. IDRIS Association, Malaysia
  315. MyWATCH – Malaysian Women’s Action on Tobacco Control and Health, Malaysia
  316. National Union of Transport Equipment and Allied Industries Workers, Malaysia
  317. Positive Malaysian Treatment Access & Advocacy Group (MTAAG+), Malaysia
  318. PT Foundation, Malaysia
  319. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia), Malaysia
  321. Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES), Malaysia
  322. University Malaya General Staff Union (UMGSU) , Malaysia
  323. Friends of the Earth Malta, Malta
  324. ONG Mer Bleue, Mauritania
  325. Réseau Mauritanien pour l’Action Sociale, RMAS, Mauritania
  326. Asamblea Veracruzana de Iniciativas y Defensa Ambiental – LAVIDA , Mexico
  327. Asociación Nacional de Industriales de Transformación (ANIT), Mexico
  328. Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Francisco de Vitoria O.P. A.C., Mexico
  329. Centro de Promocion y Educacion Profesional Vasco de Quiroga, Mexico
  330. Equidad de Género: Ciudadanía, Trabajo y Familia, Mexico
  331. Fundación Mexicana para la Planeación Familiar, A. C. MEXFAM, Mexico
  332. Grupo Tacuba, A. C. , Mexico
  333. Iniciativas para el Desarrollo de la Mujer Oaxaqueña (IDEMO), Mexico
  334. MY World Mexico, Mexico
  335. Red Mexicana de Acción frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC), Mexico
  336. STUNAM, Mexico
  337. LGBT Centre, Mongolia
  338. Oyu Tolgoi Watch, Mongolia
  339. Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation, Nepal
  340. National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders , Nepal
  341. National Indigenous Women Forum, Nepal
  342. Radha Paudel Foundation, Nepal
  343. Tarangini Foundation, Nepal
  344. Union of Public Services in Nepal , Nepal
  345. Both ENDS, Netherlands
  346. CBSM, Netherlands
  347. Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), Netherlands
  348. FNV, Netherlands
  349. Handel Anders! coalitie, Netherlands
  350. Milieudefensie, Netherlands
  351. Transnational Institute, Netherlands
  352. Vrijschrift, Netherlands
  353. Water Justice & Gender, Netherlands
  354. WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform, Netherlands
  355. De Groenen, Netherlands
  356. CAFSO-WRAG for Development, Nigeria
  357. Center for Peace Education and Community Development, Nigeria
  358. Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development, Nigeria
  359. Enowem Network, Nigeria
  360. Girls Voices Initiative, Nigeria
  361. IMAAP Projects, Nigeria
  362. Nigeria Private Sector Alliance (NiPSA), Nigeria
  363. Nigerian Women Agro Allied Farmers Association, Nigeria
  364. Peace Point Development Foundation (PPDF) , Nigeria
  365. Society for the Improvement of Rural People(SIRP), Nigeria
  366. Youth and Small Holder Farmers Association., Nigeria
  367. Association ESE, North Macedonia
  368. Campaign For the Welfare State, Norway
  369. EL og IT Forbundet, Norway
  370. Handelskampanjen, Norway
  371. Norwegian Forum for Development and Environment, Norway
  372. Oslo/Akershus Handel og Kontor , Norway
  373. Spire, Norway
  374. All Pakistan Labour Federation, Pakistan
  375. Human Unity Movement, Pakistan
  376. Roshni Tariqiyati Tanzeem, Pakistan
  377. Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek , Pakistan
  378. Roots for Equity, Pakistan
  379. Badil , Palestine
  380. Hermanas de la Misericordia , Panama
  381. Sociedad de Economía Política del Paraguay, Paraguay
  383. CUT Perú (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores del Perú), Peru
  384. FENTAP, Peru
  385. Grupo Emancipador, Peru
  386. ISP – PERÚ , Peru
  387. Red Peruana por una Globalización con Equidad (RedGE), Peru
  388. Freedom from Debt Coalition, Philippines
  389. Sanlakas Philippines, Philippines
  390. Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), Philippines
  391. Trade Justice Pilipinas, Philippines
  392. WomanHealth Philippines, Philippines
  393. Institute of Global Responsibility (IGO), Poland
  394. TROCA- Plataforma por um Comércio Internacional Justo, Portugal
  395. ZERO – Association for the Sustainability of the Earth System, Portugal
  396. SAGAMBA, Rwanda
  397. Ole Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (OLSSI), Samoa
  398. Samoa Workers Congress, Samoa
  399. Ekvilib Institute, Slovenia
  400. African Coalition for Corporate Accountability, South Africa
  401. Coalition of African Lesbians, South Africa
  402. SEATINI- South Africa, South Africa
  403. Trade Collective, South Africa
  404. Association of Physicians for Humanism, South Korea
  405. Center for Health and Social Change, South Korea
  406. Knowledge Commune, South Korea
  407. Korea Breastfeeding Network , South Korea
  408. Korean Dentists Association for Healthy Society, South Korea
  409. Korean Federation Medical Group for Health Right (KFHR), South Korea
  410. Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU-KCTU), South Korea
  411. Korean Pharmacists for Democratic Society, South Korea
  412. MINBYUN Trade Committee, South Korea
  413. PSPD (People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy), South Korea
  414. Africa Women’s Rights Empowerment Institute (AWoRE Institute), South Sudan
  415. South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA), South Sudan
  416. AFDMD-Asociación Federal para el Derecho a Morir Dignamente, Spain
  417. Amigas de la Tierra, Spain
  418. Asociacion de Usuarios de Sanidad de la Region de Murcia , Spain
  419. ATTAC Catalunya, Spain
  420. ATTAC España, Spain
  421. Campaña No a los Tratados de Comercio e Inversión, Spain
  422. Campanya Catalunya No als Tractats de Comerç i Inversió, Spain
  423. CCOO – CS de Comisiones Obreras, Spain
  424. CCOO Aragón, Spain
  425. Coordinadora Estatal de Comercio Justo, Spain
  426. Debt Observatory in Globalisation (ODG), Spain
  427. Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
  428. Ecoloxiste n’Aición d’Asturies, Spain
  429. Entrepueblos/Entrepobles/Entrepobos/Herriarte, Spain
  430. Federación de Asociaciones para la Defensa de la Sanidad Pública , Spain
  431. LA TENDA DE TOT EL MÓN, Spain
  432. Mareas Blancas / White Tides Spain, Spain
  433. Medicusmundi Spain, Spain
  434. Novact, Spain
  435. Observatori DESC, Spain
  436. Observatorio de la Deuda en la Globalizacion, Spain
  437. OME (Asociación vasca de Salud Mental), Spain
  438. Ong AFRICANDO, Spain
  439. Osalde, Spain
  440. SETEM Catalunya, Spain
  441. Solidaridad Internacional Andalucia, Spain
  442. UGT, Spain
  443. Unión Sindical Obrera (USO), Spain
  444. Unión Universal Desarrollo Solidario, Spain
  445. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, Sri Lanka
  446. Jordens Vänner – FoE Sweden, Sweden
  447. Alliance Sud, Switzerland
  448. Arbeitsgruppe Schweiz Kolumbien ask! (Swiss Working Group on Colombia), Switzerland
  449. MultiWatch, Switzerland
  450. Public Eye, Switzerland
  451. SOLIFONDS, Switzerland
  452. Mom Loves Taiwan Association, Taiwan
  453. Governance Links , Tanzania
  454. HakiMadini, Tanzania
  455. National Union of Mine and Energy Workers of Tanzania (NUMET), Tanzania
  456. Sustainable Holistic Development (SUHODE), Tanzania
  457. AIDS Access Foundation, Thailand
  458. FTA Watch, Thailand
  459. FENASSEP, Togo
  460. Les Amis de la Terre-Togo, Togo
  461. Humanitaire Plus, Togo
  462. Network of Rural Women Producers Trinidad & Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago
  463. Public Services International , Trinidad & Tobago
  464. FGEG/UGTT, Tunisia
  465. Equator School , Uganda
  466. Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) Uganda, Uganda
  467. Uganda Consortium on Corporate Accountability , Uganda
  468. Uganda Land Owners Association, Uganda
  469. Baby Milk Action , United Kingdom
  470. Banana Link , United Kingdom
  471. Bretton Woods Project, United Kingdom
  472. Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), United Kingdom
  473. Centre for Human Ecology, United Kingdom
  474. Coal Action Network , United Kingdom
  475. Compassion in World Farming, United Kingdom
  476. CORE Coalition UK, United Kingdom
  477. Farms not Factories, United Kingdom
  478. Fresh Eyes, United Kingdom
  479. GardenAfrica, United Kingdom
  480. Global Justice Now, United Kingdom
  481. GMB, United Kingdom
  482. Health Poverty Action, United Kingdom
  483. Jubilee Debt Campaign, United Kingdom
  484. Keep Our NHS Public, United Kingdom
  485. London Mining Network, United Kingdom
  486. National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN), United Kingdom
  487. One World Week, United Kingdom
  488. People’s Health Movement Scotland, United Kingdom
  489. People’s Health Movement UK, United Kingdom
  490. Public & Commercial Services Union, United Kingdom
  491. Real Farming Trust, United Kingdom
  492. St Andrews TTIP Action Group, United Kingdom
  493. Stamp Out Poverty, United Kingdom
  494. STOPAIDS, United Kingdom
  495. Thrive Scotland, United Kingdom
  496. Tipping Point North South, United Kingdom
  497. Trade Justice Movement, United Kingdom
  498. Trade Justice Scotland Coalition, United Kingdom
  499. Traidcraft Exchange, United Kingdom
  500. UNISON, United Kingdom
  501. Unite Scotland, United Kingdom
  502. Unite the Union, United Kingdom
  503. War on Want, United Kingdom
  504. Womankind Worldwide, United Kingdom
  505. Women’s Budget Group , United Kingdom
  506., United States
  507. Accountability Lab, United States
  508. AFL-CIO, United States
  509. Alliance for Democracy , United States
  510. Alliance for Retired Americans, United States
  511. American Economic Liberties Project, United States
  512. American Family Voices, United States
  513. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), United States
  514. Americas Program, United States
  515. Association of Pulp & Paper Workers, United States
  516. Campaign for America’s Future, United States
  517. Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH), United States
  518. Citizens Trade Campaign, United States
  519. CODEPINK, United States
  520. Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, United States
  521. Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), United States
  522. Communications Workers of America (CWA), United States
  523. Community Services Unlimited Inc., United States
  524. Corporate Accountability, United States
  525. Democracy for America, United States
  526. Earthworks, United States
  527. Economic Justice Action Group, United States
  528. Economic Strategy Institute, United States
  529. Fair World Project, United States
  530. Feminist Task Force, United States
  531. Fight for the Future, United States
  532. Food & Water Action, United States
  533. Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research (FIAR), United States
  534. Friends of the Earth United States, United States
  535. Green America, United States
  536. Hip Hop Caucus, United States
  537. Humanitaire Plus , United States
  538. Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, United States
  539. Institute for Policy Studies – Global Economy Project , United States
  540. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United States
  541. Just Foreign Policy, United States
  542. Justice is Global, United States
  543. Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, United States
  544. Milwaukee Fair Trade Coalition, United States
  545. Naked Capitalism, United States
  546. National Association of Consumer Advocates, United States
  547. National Family Farm Coalition, United States
  548. National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association, United States
  549. Natural Resources Defense Council, United States
  550. NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, United States
  551. New Rules for Global Finance, United States
  552. Oakland Institute, United States
  553. Occupy Bergen County (New Jersey), United States
  554. Open Society Policy Center, United States
  555. Oregon Progressive Party, United States
  556. Our Revolution, United States
  557. Presbyterian Church USA, United States
  558. Pride at Work, United States
  559. Public Citizen, United States
  560. R-CALF USA, United States
  561., United States
  562. Salud y Fármacos, United States
  563. SERR- Servicios Ecumenicos para Reconciliacion y Reconstruccion, United States
  564. Sierra Club, United States
  565. Sisters of Charity Federation, United States
  566. Social Security Works , United States
  567. UE, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, United States
  568. Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community, United States
  569. UNITE HERE, United States
  570. United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) , United States
  571. United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, United States
  572. United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, United States
  573. United Steelworkers (USW), United States
  574. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, United States
  575. Washington Fair Trade Coalition, United States
  576. Western Organization of Resource Councils, United States
  577. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, US, United States
  578. Womens Environment and Development Organization, United States
  579. Win Without War, United States
  580. REDES-Amigos del Tierra (FoE) Uruguay, Uruguay
  581. Coalición de Tendencia Clasista (CTC-VZLA), Venezuela
  582. Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights (YOOHR), Yemen
  583. Action for Development (AfD), Zambia
  584. Zimbabwe Institute for International Affairs, Zimbabwe

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How to implement the proposals from the open letter on ISDS and COVID-19?

This annex is a companion to the open letter to governments on ISDS and COVID-19 signed by 630 organisations from around the world.

The letter addresses the imminent threat of ISDS lawsuits as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related unfolding economic crises[8] and urges governments to take immediate action to ensure that the duty of governments to regulate in the public interest is safeguarded and put beyond the scope of ISDS claims.

The letter proposes six measures governments should urgently take. These proposals are legally sound and within the full prerogative of governments’ sovereignty to implement.  

This annex aims to give more details about the legal avenues governments can take to implement the proposals from the letter.

1- Permanently restrict the use of ISDS in all its forms in respect of claims that the state considers to concern COVID-19 related measures.

This measure is already gathering wide support worldwide. There are, however, different ways to implement this proposal:

  1. Governments can, in some treaties, withhold consent to ISDS.  There are 98 of the 2577 IIAs mapped by UNCTAD that require case by case consent to ISDS disputes. This means that investors cannot sue unless governments explicitly agree to be sued. Therefore, withholding consent to arbitrate is the legal right of governments and it is an easy step to take. 
  2. In 96% of the IIAs in force, governments have agreed to automatic consent. However, governments have the option to withdraw consent to ISDS. This legal avenue has already been flagged years ago by academics and more recently, detailed language has been developed on how this could be achieved.
    It is important to note that while this measure will send a strong signal to the international community about the desire of governments to put a break to ISDS, it is unlikely to stop the actual filing of ISDS cases by investors. In the past, even after Latin American governments decided to withdraw consent to be sued at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), investors continued suing and ICSID arbitrators accepted to decide on those disputes. 
  3. One other way to restrict the use of ISDS would be by following the IISD proposal of an “Agreement for the coordinated suspension of investor-state dispute settlement with respect to COVID-19 related measures and disputes”. IISD proposes the signing of a multilateral agreement, but also offers the option of a bilateral suspension agreement that could be negotiated between countries or blocs of countries. Countries resorting to bilateral solutions can still participate in multilateral efforts as a parallel, longer-term effort.

When we refer to ISDS in all its forms, we are making reference to other models of investor-state dispute settlement beyond the traditional included in most international investment agreements. In particular, the phrase is meant to include the investment court system proposal as embedded in the European Union (EU)-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), EU-Singapore and EU-Vietnam free trade agreements. It would also include the Multilateral Investment Court proposal currently being discussed in the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).

2- Suspend all ISDS cases on any issue against any government while it is fighting COVID-19 crises, when capacity needs to be focussed on the pandemic response.

There are currently 397 open ISDS cases against 83 countries. All of these governments, one way or another, are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, they also have to worry about responding to the demands of the ongoing ISDS cases. 

For example, Bolivia, has already asked tribunals in two ongoing cases (Glencore v. Bolivia and  Orlandini and Compania Minera Orlandini v. Bolivia) to suspend proceedings explaining the government was unable to prepare its defense due to the pandemic crisis. In both cases, the Tribunals rejected the request for suspension of the cases. This is unacceptable at a time when the World Health Organization’s Director General has said the whole of government must refocus on suppressing and controlling COVID-19. 

Furthermore, from 1 March until 25 May 2020 when most governments were in the midst of the pandemic crisis, 12 new ISDS cases were filed at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) alone.[9] Most of those were against Latin American countries, and Colombia was the worst hit with three lawsuits. 

Unfortunately, it is not in governments’ power to suspend ongoing proceedings. It is the decision of investors and arbitrators. So, in this case, governments will need to come together in a political declaration, which gathers the support of key international institutions, asking for a moratorium on all ongoing ISDS cases.  

3- Ensure that no public money is spent paying corporations for ISDS awards during the pandemic. 

Foreign debt moratoriums and cancellation programmes have recently received widespread support, including from international bodies such as the World Bank, UNCTAD among others. 

From a policy perspective, the same rationale that applies to foreign debt payments should apply to ISDS debt. It would be rational for governments to stop payment of outstanding debts as a result of any ISDS awards while they face the mounting health and economic crises related to COVID-19, as well as reject payment of any ISDS awards related to actions that the state considers to concern COVID-19 related measures. Countries should discuss relief or restructuring of the payments with the creditors, in this case investors who have won an ISDS case.

Legally, ISDS awards can be set aside by the courts of the country that is the ‘seat’ of the arbitration, based on grounds set in the national law of arbitration. Generally, the grounds for annulment are limited and the number of successful annulments is consequently low. Grounds included in national arbitration laws, usually based on the UNCITRAL Model Law or the New York Convention, are limited to validity of the form and substance of the arbitration agreement, procedural elements pertaining to the constitution of the arbitral tribunal and compliance with its mandate, and public policy grounds. Given the exceptional circumstances attached to the COVID-19 crisis, states could take action to clarify these grounds in their national laws, particularly making ISDS awards that result from claims challenging COVID-19 related measures and undermining the capacity of the losing state to respond to the national COVID-19 crisis, incompatible with public policy considerations. Moreover, states could consider clarifying that the validity of the arbitration agreement does not hold where a respondent state had unilaterally withdrawn consent to ISDS as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

4- Stop negotiating, signing, and or ratifying any new agreements that include ISDS.

There are hundreds of investment treaties that are currently under negotiation or have been signed but await ratification to enter into force. It is the prerogative of any government to put a stop to that process. 

For example, recently the government of New Zealand decided to oppose ISDS in new agreements, including in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Also, all governments part of RCEP negotiations decided to exclude ISDS from the negotiations.

5- Terminate existing agreements with ISDS, ensuring that ‘survival clauses’ do not allow cases to be brought subsequently.

There are four possible avenues for governments to terminate their current investment agreements:

  1. Multilateral termination: On 5 May 2020, 23 European Member States signed a joint agreement for the termination of intra-EU bilateral investment treaties among themselves. This is a clear example of how multilateral termination could be achieved.
  2. Unilateral termination: many other countries have terminated bilateral investment treaties unilaterally (e.g. South Africa, Indonesia, India, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Tanzania, and Italy, among others).
  3. Mutual consent of the parties involved based on Article 54(b) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (examples of recent termination by mutual agreement include Czech Republic terminated its BITs with Denmark, Italy, Malta and Slovenia; also Argentina and Indonesia agreed to terminate their BIT). 
  4. Joint agreement of the governments in free trade agreements to remove ISDS from the investment chapter.[10]

The easiest option to pursue (unilateral termination), would trigger the survival clause which allows investors that were already in the country at the time of termination to continue suing the government for a set time (up to 20 years) after the treaty was terminated.

It is worth noticing that options 1, 3 and 4 could annul the effects of survival clauses, so investors would not be allowed to continue suing the government after the termination of the treaty. 

IISD has recently published a briefing on Best Practices about “Terminating a Bilateral Investment Treaty” that offers specific language and addresses different considerations to take into account for governments.

It is worth mentioning that recent studies have found that termination of investment agreements does not affect investment flows.  

6- In light of threats exposed by the pandemic, comprehensively review existing agreements that include ISDS to see if they are fit for purpose

Twenty years after most of these treaties were signed, there is a clear need to carry out comprehensive reviews of these type agreements. This need becomes even more urgent seeing the threats that the international investment regime poses in light of the current pandemic. Assessing the risks of these agreements vis a vis the benefits becomes imperative.

During the last decade, several governments have launched comprehensive reviews of their investment treaties. Among those, South Africa and Ecuador for example carried out publicly available reviews following different methodologies. In all cases, however, they ended up establishing that the risks of the agreements outweighed any possible benefit, and therefore recommended that governments roll back ISDS commitments and refrain from committing to ISDS in the future.

Furthermore, academics like Lauge N Poulsen, Jonathan Bonnitcha and Jason Webb Yackee have developed an analytical framework for assessing costs and benefits of Investment Protection Treaties, that provides clear methodology for how this type of assessment could be implemented. 

[1] See for example: , , , ,






[7] Calculation based on the UNCTAD database for cases up to December 2018. Out of the 310 disclosed cases which had been decided in favor of the investor or settled, information on damages was provided for 213 cases (69%).

[8];; and

[9] 12 ISDS cases (11 based on IIAs and 1 based on a contract) were filed against the following countries: Colombia (3 cases), Peru (2), Panama (1), Mexico (1), Dominican Republic (1), Norway (1), Croatia (1), Serbia (1), Romania (1)

[10]  For example the recently concluded Agreement between the United States of America, the United Mexican States, and Canada (USMCA) amended the North  American Free  Trade  Agreement (NAFTA) to completely remove ISDS between the US and Canada and, partially, between US and Mexico.