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Rethinking investment treaties to advance human rights

Lorenzo Cotula

Briefing, 4 pages

There are over 3,000 international investment treaties worldwide, with more under negotiation. The number of investor state arbitrations based on these treaties continues to grow. Human rights issues have emerged in several arbitrations, for example in disputes that affected water access, public health, land rights, the environment and actions favouring disadvantaged groups. Yet few investment treaties contain meaningful references to human rights, and some arbitral tribunals have proved reluctant to consider human rights arguments made by states and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Investment treaty policy needs reconfiguring in the light of human rights obligations. The UK has long been a key player in the development of the international investment regime. As the country gears up for international trade and investment negotiations in the aftermath of the ‘Brexit’ vote, there is an opportunity to show leadership by ensuring that investment policy supports human rights.

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International treaties, national laws and transnational contracts define the terms of an investment and influence the distribution of its costs and benefits. To promote inclusive sustainable development, IIED works with partners to rethink these legal documents and the process through which they are formulated.

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Rethinking investment treaties, laws and contracts