Government challenged to rule out 'corporate courts'

30 July 2019 - 7:30am
Press release

Government challenged to rule out ‘corporate courts’ after Brexit, following criticism by influential MPs

  • Trade Committee calls investment rules ‘hugely controversial’ ahead of possible no deal Brexit
  • Armenia is latest country to be threatened, with $2 billion claim by mining company Lydian over Amulsar gold mine
  • New 18-minute documentary charts story of resistance to international mining industry in Amulsar

Campaign groups Global Justice Now and War on Want have called for Boris Johnson’s government to rule out so-called ‘corporate courts’ after Brexit, following a report today by parliament’s International Trade Committee describing the investment provisions as “hugely controversial”.

The committee’s report denounced the government’s failure to set out “even basic lines of policy” over international investment agreements in preparation for a no deal Brexit, including its position on investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), also known as ‘corporate courts’. [1]

It comes as the campaign groups launch a call on UK and Jersey-registered mining company, Lydian, to drop a massive $2 billion corporate court claim it has threatened against the Armenian government over protests at a contentious gold mine. They have released an 18-minute film documenting the resistance to the mine. [2]

The Amulsar gold mine in southern Armenia was given the go ahead by Armenia’s previous authoritarian government, despite longstanding concerns. The government had a track record of police violence and repression of public protest. [3] Then in 2018, Armenia had a ‘Velvet Revolution’ and a new democratic government came to power. Less repressive policing has seen locals blockading the mine for over a year, with construction on the site brought to a halt.

Lydian is using a new ‘letterbox’ company registration in the UK to threaten an ISDS case through a UK treaty, on the grounds that the Armenian government has ‘failed’ to remove the protestors. [4] They are reported to be demanding a $1.5-2 billion payout. [5]

Global Justice Now and War on Want argue that the Armenian case is just the latest evidence that corporate courts are an unacceptable attack on democratic sovereignty. They are demanding that Boris Johnson’s government commits to excluding ISDS from post-Brexit trade deals and removing it from existing UK investment deals.

Jean Blaylock, campaigner at War on Want said:
“Corporate courts are fundamentally unjust and should have no place in modern trade and investment policy. As MPs highlight, with the risk of a no deal Brexit in three months, the government cannot just keep repeating that it is ‘considering’ its policy on this. We believe corporate courts should simply be dropped. Amulsar shows the danger they are already causing around the world. Brexit, especially a no deal Brexit, could easily lead to the UK being sued in its turn.”

James Angel, campaigner at Global Justice Now said:
“Lydian are using the threat of corporate courts to bully the Armenian government into betraying its people. The battle to save Amulsar is the first major test of the 2018 revolution. Lydian’s $2 billion lawsuit is designed to push the government to side with foreign investors over human rights and the environment. With locals vowing to do all they can to save their water and land, it’s down to those of us in the UK to join them in speaking out against this UK-registered mining firm’s toxic attack on democracy.”

Arpine Galfayan of the Armenia Environmental Front said:
“These investment rules are threatening democracies, especially in the kind of places where democracy is still vulnerable. It's just a year since these reforms started to happen in Armenia, and then this case is a direct, very strong, economic pressure on the government not to act in the interest of the people, of human rights and of the environment, but to act in the interest of the investors.”

Background

The new documentary, More precious than gold: community resistance v corporate courts, features interviews with some of those blockading the mine, as well as Armenian environmentalists from the Save Amulsar campaign. It can be viewed at https://youtu.be/JT5_pTP8Tdk

Independent geological experts warn that the Amulsar mine will lead to acid water contaminating the nearby Lake Sevan, the largest freshwater lake in the whole Caucasus region. The mine also threatens jobs in the nearby spa town of Jermuk, whose economy is based on health tourism and agriculture.

Corporate courts (technically known as investor state dispute settlement or ISDS) are a parallel legal system that allow foreign investors to sue governments for policies they think might curb their profits. In the past, corporate courts have been used to sue governments for a range of measures, from introducing plain cigarette packaging to banning fracking.


For more information contact Jean Blaylock, jblaylock@waronwant.org or Tim Chuah, tchuah@waronwant.org / 07983 550 728.

Notes for editors

  1. House of Commons International Trade Committee, UK investment policy. 30 July 2019 https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/international-trade-committee/news-parliament-2017/uk-investment-policy-report-publication-17-19/
  2. More Precious Than Gold: community resistance v corporate courts, https://youtu.be/JT5_pTP8Tdk
  3. Human Rights Watch, Armenia: arbitrary detentions, brutal beatings, 5 August 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/05/armenia-arbitrary-detentions-brutal-beatings and Armenia: uneven record on human rights, 18 January 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/18/armenia-uneven-record-human-rights
  4. Lydian International, Lydian announces submission of notices to Government of Armenia under bilateral investment protection treaties. 11 March 2019, https://www.lydianinternational.co.uk/news/2019-news/452 - Shayna Posses, “Armenia faces arbitration threat over gold mine blockades”, Law360, 12 March 2019, https://www.law360.com/articles/1138018/armenia-faces-arbitration-threat-over-gold-mine-blockades
  5. The figures have been reported in the Armenian media, including https://irakanum.am/2018/06/12/լիդիան-արմենիան-պատրաստվում-է-հայց/https://b24.am/business/75725.html

Global Justice Now and War on Want are part of the Stop ISDS campaign in the UK, www.stopisds.org.uk.

The Armenian Environmental Front is a campaign group based in Armenia, http://www.armecofront.net/en/.

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