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Special economic zones: engines of development or sites of exploitation?

Lorenzo Cotula, Liliane Mouan

IIED Briefing, 4 pages

Special economic zones (SEZs) have spread rapidly over the past 20 years, including in many low- and middle-income countries keen to attract private investment for industrial development. But while much debate has focused on their economic performance and success factors, there are concerns over land expropriations, poor labour conditions and lost public revenues. These concerns are often partly rooted in the legal regimes that underpin SEZs — their failure to protect affected people, their exempting SEZs from national laws or their weak arrangements to ensure compliance. At the same time, activists have in a few cases mobilised the law to contest SEZs and their impacts. This briefing discusses these trends and points to possible ways forward for research, policy and practice.

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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

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