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Week of Action: Hundreds of actions take place against ISDS and corporate impunity

Credit: Helga Reimund

The Rights for People, Rules for Corporations – Stop ISDS campaign held a week of action across Europe between 10-18 October. From stalls and stunts to protests and petitions, activists across Europe used a variety of ways to get the message across loud and clear – we reject ISDS and corporate impunity.

The week kicked off with the launch of the Golden Toilet Brush Awards for evil corporations. Ten corporations were nominated for getting away with unethical behaviour and using ISDS corporate courts. In some countries, activists got together to hand in official nomination certificates to the companies in question:

Spanish activists present a Golden Toilet Brush Award nomination to BBVA bank

Thousands of people voted within the first day of the website being launched. But, if you haven’t already done so, there is plenty of time to vote for the company you think should win the Golden Toilet Brush for worst company.

Activists in different countries took different approaches.

In Germany, over a dozen actions took place across the country in just one day (12 October) mostly focussed on stopping the country ratifying the EU-Canada trade deal CETA. If this is ratified, it will allow Canadian firms to sue us using the ISDS system of corporate courts and bully our governments into doing their bidding. The most colourful protest took place outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office in Berlin.

In France, the target was three big companies: Total, BNP-Paribas and Amazon. Here too, over 80 actions took place throughout the country. In Marseille, a Total petrol station was blocked and in Paris huge posters were displayed in front of the oil company’s headquarters. Total has also been nominated for a Golden Toilet Brush Award.

In the Netherlands, there was a strategic alliance with farmers who would be hit badly by the EU-Canada trade deal CETA. There is an opportunity to vote the deal down in the Dutch upper house. Campaigners also delivered a Golden Toilet Brush Award nomination to Shell’s HQ in the Hague.

Dutch campaigners present a Golden Toilet Brush Award to Shell

In Spain, campaigners converged on the Madrid headquarters of the banking giant BBVA to present the bank with a Golden Toilet Brush Award for using ISDS to attack Bolivia for renationalising its pension system and for its role in bankrolling arms companies and other dubious projects.

In Portugal, there were stalls at train stations and also a special Golden Toilet Brush Award for individual “achievement” in supporting ISDS was handed over to Professor George Bermann, who has conducted arbitration cases since 1980 and is a major academic backer of the system.

There was also a bus tour that visited cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to get the message out. There were demonstrations along the road in a number of places along the route including Geneva, Basel, Munich, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna. Among the targeted companies were mining giants Glencore and Vale.

Activists on the bus tour protest corporate use of ISDS in Vienna

But let’s not forget why we’re doing this now. We held these actions last week because this was when delegates were due to gather in Geneva for the negotiations on a UN Binding Treaty on transnational corporations and human rights. A strong treaty could give communities affected by corporate human rights violations and environmental damage a way to win justice.

So what happened?

Well, our campaigners came out in force to Geneva. There was action both inside and outside the venue. While protests took place outside, campaigners were also busy on the inside trying to keep the text from being watered down by corporate interests.

But the forces in favour of a strong treaty came up against opposition during the negotiations. The persuasive power of civil society representatives in the room proved too much for some governments, who tried to push to get civil society excluded from parts of the negotiations.

On the positive side, the talks further strengthened momentum towards coming to a final text that will be agreed by UN member states. Every year of progress means it is less likely that forces that wish to stop the Treaty from happening will succeed.

It’s safe to say that the fight to secure a strong UN Binding Treaty goes on.