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