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Law Firms Are Recruiting Corporations to Attack COVID-19 Policies in ISDS ‘Corporate Courts,’ Warn 600-Plus Civil Society Groups From 90 Nations

Corporations Could Claim Billions From Taxpayers in ISDS Cases Against Pandemic Protections

The threat of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) claims from multinational corporations for compensation from taxpayers for governments’ COVID-19 responses is dire, warned more than 600 labor, consumer, environmental, development and other civil society organizations today in a letter to heads of government worldwide.

In the letter, the groups revealed that numerous law firms specializing in ISDS lawsuits attacks are trolling for multinational corporations to attack government actions, such as restrictions on business activities to limit the spread of the virus and protect workers, requirements for manufacturers to produce ventilators, mandatory relief from mortgage payments or rent for households and businesses, measures to ensure access to clean water for hand-washing and sanitation, and more.

Specialist law journals have speculated that “the past few weeks may mark the beginning of a boom” of ISDS cases. As governments are taking urgent actions to stem the COVID-19 pandemic, save lives, protect jobs, counter economic disaster and ensure people’s basic needs are met, some law firms are advertising about the opportunities to use ISDS to profit from these necessary government actions.


The controversial ISDS mechanism is written into many trade and investment agreements and grants rights to multinational corporations to sue governments before a panel of three corporate lawyers. These lawyers can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by taxpayers, including for the loss of expected future profits, on claims that a nation’s policy violates their rights. Their decisions cannot be appealed.


The 630 organizations are calling on governments to take practical steps that would immediately suspend the use of ISDS over pandemic response measures, as well as to put an end to the risks of all ISDS cases forever. Organizations signing the open letter include:

  • Major U.S. labor and civil society groups, including the AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, United Auto Workers (UAW), NRDC, United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Communications Workers of America (CWA), Methodist Board of Church and Society and the Presbyterian Church USA;
  • International and regional union confederations including the International Trade Union Confederation, Public Services International, IndustriALL, the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF);
  • International environmental and development groups such as Oxfam, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth International, Action Aid, Third World Network, the European Environmental Bureau, the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development and the Arab NGO Network for Development; and
  • Global health networks such as the Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Peoples’ Health Movement, Access Campaign and the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition.

View the letter and the full list of signatures.

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