Who Benefits from Private Courts in the TPP? We’ll Give You One Guess

The Trans-Pacific Partnership sets up private “corporate courts,” with few rules, that are only open for multinational companies to sue countries. Nearly all the winnings in these "corporate courts" go to the world’s biggest corporations and richest people—and most of the rest goes to the lawyers who work in these tribunals, according to a new study.

Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) is the official name of these corporate courts, which have been included in trade and investment treaties for more than 20 years. A history of bizarre decisions and outrageous payouts has convinced many countries to reject the system. Now two researchers have analyzed the rulings of those courts. It turns out that most of the wins, and 95% of the money awarded, went to the world’s biggest corporations and to individuals worth more than $100 million. They won more than $8.5 billion in the cases studied. Small companies and even not-quite-super-rich people almost never used ISDS courts—and usually lost when they did.

The big winners are oil and gas companies, international banks and the people who own them, and the very small group of lawyers and judges who work on these cases and collect hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees. The big losers, of course, are the working people who think they have the right to decide the laws in their own countries and have them judged in their own courts, and find they have to pay out billions of dollars instead.

TPP supporters say that ISDS is a way of protecting “investors” from governments that might abuse them. It turns out a look at the cases shows that the investors are who we need to be protected from.

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