How the International Investment Law Regime Undermines Access to Justice for Investment-Affected Stakeholders

Mehranvar, Ladan; Hennings, Jessica; Kelly, Robin Marie; Raxter, Lena; Toimil, Ana

For over a decade now, the international investment law regime, which includes investment treaties and their central pillar, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, has been facing sustained calls for reform. These have largely centered on the concerns regarding the high costs of ISDS, the restrictions placed by the investment treaty regime on the right—or duty—of states to regulate in the public interest, and the questionable benefits arising from these treaties in the first place. Several states have taken proactive measures: some have revised investment treaty standards to better protect their regulatory powers; others have introduced new approaches to investment promotion, protection, and dispute settlement that more closely align with their sustainable development objectives; and some states have withdrawn from the investment treaty regime altogether. In addition, reforms to the regime are taking place at the multilateral level within the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and through other regional fora.

Despite being the subject of extensive and prolonged public debate for several years, these reforms have continued to reinforce the binary structure of the regime. This structure restricts the focus of investment relations solely to investors and host states, disregarding the actual or potential impacts of investment projects, relations, disputes and awards on the rights and interests of other impacted stakeholders. In particular, large-scale, land-based investment projects involve a broad network of people and relations, and often intersect with local communities whose social identity, way of life, and livelihoods are intimately connected to the land and natural resources at stake. It is this category of investments, which result in the creation of a new “project” with a large land footprint, that is the topic of this paper. The consequences of these types of investments can be significant, as they often lead to land expropriations, negative human health consequences, water pollution, air contamination, deforestation, or shifts in migration patterns within the area, thereby impacting the rights and interests of people in these communities and the environment more broadly.


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Academic Units
Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment
Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment
Published Here
March 5, 2024