Human Rights No, Corporate Rights Yes?

Andrew Norton's picture

It’s become a hallmark of British Government that they say one thing and do another. Rarely is it ever so cut-and-dried as with the current Conservative government.

Much has been made over the last few weeks about the desires of the Prime Minister to leave the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Cameron has said he wants to bring more powers back to London, because he doesn’t like the way it ‘hands power’ off – powers we British have given to that court more than 60 years ago. Most notably, he doesn’t like the way it often deals with his right wing agenda of disenfranchising people, and creeping towards a police state, but seems to be championing the way with misinformation.

 

It’s quite surprising to note then, that he has not been an outspoken critic of the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) or the Comprehensive  Economic and Trade  Agreement (CETA) which was released yesterday. In fact, he has been portrayed as a massive supporter of the TTIP, and CETA.

“Why is that surprising?”, you might ask, and the answer is simple. The entire thrust of his anti-ECHR campaign, has been that the court takes power ‘out of London’. He has no problem with ‘Human Rights’, but wants to somehow bring it entirely inside the UK, no matter the outside cost (there may well be significant consequences to leaving the ECHR). In essence, he wants a UK subservient only to UK judges. 

However, both the CETA and TTIP contain a provision called “Investor-State Dispute Settlements” or ISDS. These allow for a company to sue a country if it feels its laws are harmful to that company’s interests. If you don’t understand how that works, here’s two examples.

 

In Canada, drug company Eli Lily has filed suit against Canada after patents on two of Lily’s drugs were invalidated. These patents were invalidated by Federal courts. Lily is suing for ‘loss of investment’ under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

In Australia, the Hong Kong subsidiary of tobacco company Phillip Morris sued Australia for the plain packaging legislation enacted by the Australian government. Morris is suing under the 1993 ‘promotion and protection of investments’ treaty between the two countries.

Obviously, the first case is of significant interest to the Pirate Party, in that invalidating useless patents is one of the things we strongly support. However, it’s the second that is of greater interest here. Mainly because plain-packaged tobacco is one of the issues David Cameron is quite keen on, and which has gone through a number of consultations and studies.

If he’s upset at judges in Strasbourg enforcing a set of laws and practices based on human rights, because it’s ‘not British’, the uproar at the CETA should be deafening. After all, in those disputes, judges are not used at all. In both the Australia, and Canada cases, the country picked one arbiter, the suing company picks another, and a third party picks a third. They’re not even judges, but commercial arbiters, who operate in a market environment, and thus have a financial interest in the litigation (who will hire an arbiter that won’t side with you?). Thus the case ends up being pivotal on the arbiter selected by this third party.

 

In fact the CETA specifically adds cases and circumstances where countries will be subject to decisions by Arbitrators - not even judges, certainly not UK judges. And this is all one-way as well. Companies will be able to sue the UK, but the UK can’t use this back at countries.

 

CETA is a huge gift to businesses of a way to protect their profit-making if pesky things like ‘judges in London’ aren’t going to rule their way should ‘politicians in London’ make a democratic decision in the interests of the UK. And yet he has a problem with judges in Strasbourg ruling on rights because they’re in Strasbourg and not London?

 

The treaty now released to the public view for the first time in 5 years is now 'finished' - there is no negotiation, or admending. It is a straight "yes" or "no" on the treaty as a whole, and only the Germans have raised any objections, almost entirely to do with ISDS. It's not the only such treaty either, as the TTIP (which is just like CETA, but between the EU and the US) also has similar ISDS clauses

 

And if that doesn’t show Cameron’s protests against the ECHR for the nonsense it is, then nothing will. These treaties, which have been backed by Cameron for the entire length of the current government, not only reduce the power of the government, but give that power to corporations in the name of economic growth, because we know just how well the kind of economic growth this encourages works. All to the wealthy friends of the PM, and little-to-none to the government or the general public.

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