» Corporate Power

» Jobs, Wages and Economic Outcomes

» Food Safety

» Access to Affordable Medicines

» Corporate-rigged “Trade” Pacts

» Alternatives to Corporate Globalization

» Other Issues

Trade Data Center

One-stop shop for searchable trade databases, case lists & more

Eyes on Trade

Global Trade Watch blog on trade & globalization. Subscribe to RSS.

Debunking Trade Myths

To hide the facts about failed trade policies, proponents are changing the data

Connect with GTW

Global Trade Watch Home 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Empowering Corporations to Attack Nations

Incentivizing Corporations to Offshore Our Jobs and Attack Our Laws

The TPP was a massive, controversial, pro-corporate “free trade” agreement that was defeated by thousands of diverse organizations representing working people united across borders — fighting against corporate power and for the environment, health, human rights and democracy. The key provision in the TPP would have enabled an insidious corporate power grab. If it had passed through Congress and been enacted, the TPP would have granted new rights to thousands of multinational corporations to bypass domestic courts and directly “sue” the U.S. government before a panel of three corporate lawyers. Fair trade advocates must remain vigilant to stop the spread of this corporate power grab through attempts to revive this dangerous element of the TPP. Under this system, these lawyers can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by America's taxpayers, including for the loss of expected future profits. The corporations need only convince the lawyers that a U.S. law or safety regulation that we rely on for a clean environment, essential services, and healthy communities violates their “trade agreement” rights. These decisions are not subject to outside appeal and the amount they can order taxpayers to give corporations has no limit.

How could multinational corporations attack domestic health, environmental and financial protections on which we all rely and that local companies have to follow? The TPP contained a provision known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). The ISDS provision in the TPP would have given multinational firms stunning new powers, including the ability to challenge new policies – from Wall Street regulations to climate change protections – because the corporations claim the policies violate the new TPP rights and frustrate the corporations' "expectations" of they should be treated.

Under ISDS, if a tribunal rules against a challenged policy, there is no limit to the amount of taxpayer money it can order the government to pay the multinational corporation. The amount is based on the "expected future profits" the tribunal surmises that the corporation would have earned in the absence of the public policy it is attacking. Under existing U.S. pacts, tribunals have ordered nearly $3 billion in taxpayer compensation to multinational firms, and more than $70 billion is pending.

These lawyers rotate between serving as "judges" and bringing cases for corporations against governments – a conflict of interest that would be deemed unethical under most legal systems. The “tribunalists,” as they are formally called, are not bound by precedent or the opinions of governments, and there is no outside appeal to their rulings.

While this shadow legal system for multinational corporations has been around since the 1950s, just 50 known cases were launched in the regime's first three decades combined. In contrast, corporations have launched approximately 50 claims in each of the last five years.

The U.S. has dodged ISDS liability to date because past treaties have only covered a limited number of investors here. But instead of decreasing our exposure to this surge of corporate attacks, the TPP would have roughly doubled U.S. exposure to investor-state attacks against U.S. policies. The TPP would have newly empowered more than 1,000 additional corporations in TPP countries, which own more than 9,200 additional subsidiaries in the United States, to launch investor-state cases against the U.S. government. If that were not sufficiently outrageous, the TPP special protections for multinational corporations also incentivize more job offshoring. The new corporate rights and powers would eliminate many of the usual costs and risks that make firms think twice about moving to low-wage countries, literally promoting corporations to launch a new wave of job offshoring.

The ISDS expansion planned in the TPP has been defeated thanks to the tireless work of thousands of international fair trade activists who stopped the TPP. But the unaccountable ISDS system still exists in other “free trade” agreements and could be expanded in future corporate-driven deals.

Visit to learn more.

Featured Resources:

Reports and Memos  |  Press Room  |  Congress Speaks Out  |  Civil Society Speaks Out

Public Citizen Factsheets, Reports & Memos

Public Citizen Press Releases & Statements

Members of Congress Speak Out


Civil Society Organizations Speak Out

Other Resources

Copyright © 2017 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation


You can support the fight for greater government and corporate accountability through a donation to either Public Citizen, Inc., or Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.

Public Citizen lobbies Congress and federal agencies to advance Public Citizen’s mission of advancing government and corporate accountability. When you make a contribution to Public Citizen, you become a member of Public Citizen, showing your support and entitling you to benefits such as Public Citizen News. Contributions to Public Citizen are not tax-deductible.

Public Citizen Foundation focuses on research, public education, and litigation in support of our mission. By law, the Foundation can engage in only very limited lobbying. Contributions to Public Citizen Foundation are tax-deductible.