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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

  1. ACAFREMIN
  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
  9. BEACON
  10. bilaterals.org
  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

National

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

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ANNEX 
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: https://www.alston.com/en/insights/events/2020/04/the-coming-wave-of-covid-19-arbitration/ , https://www.ropesgray.com/en/newsroom/alerts/2020/04/COVID-19-Measures-Leveraging-Investment-Agreements-to-Protect-Foreign-Investments , https://www.reedsmith.com/en/perspectives/2020/05/reed-smith-quarterly-international-arbitration-focus , https://globalarbitrationreview.com/article/1222354/could-covid-19-emergency-measures-give-rise-to-investment-claims-first-reflections-from-italy ,  https://www.acerislaw.com/the-covid-19-pandemic-and-investment-arbitration/

[2] https://www.iisd.org/library/investor-state-claims-amidst-covid-19

[3] https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/diaepcbinf2020d3_en.pdf

[4] http://ccsi.columbia.edu/2020/05/05/isds-moratorium-during-covid-19/

[5] https://www.law360.com/legalethics/articles/1261213/third-party-funders-business-is-booming-during-pandemic

[6] https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/investment-dispute-settlement

[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] https://longreads.tni.org/pandemic-profiteers/https://longreads.tni.org/cashing-in-on-the-pandemic;  https://www.iisd.org/library/investor-state-claims-amidst-covid-19; and https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/diaepcbinf2020d3_en.pdf

[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. https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/united-states-mexico-canada-agreement/agreement-between.