Bill Moyers Reports: Trading Democracy, PBS Documentary

Bill Moyers Reports: Trading Democracy, PBS Documentary
multimedia clips and complete transcript

It is not often that we advertise for TV programs, but we'll make an exception this time. Bill Moyers has done a documentary on PBS entitled: "Trading Democracy." "Trading Democracy" is a one-hour documentary that covers, in understandable terms, the legal and technical aspects of NAFTA's investor rules. These rules allow corporations to sue countries directly to overturn legitimate public interest laws and regulations when they believe their actual or potential corporate profits have been undermined. Incredibly, these suits are decided in secret by unelected bureaucrats who have been given the power to determine whether laws ranging from zoning ordinances to environmental protections constitute an interference with corporate profits. To order Bill Moyers' "Trading Democracy" for $29.95 (plus shipping) call or email Diane Bilello at 1-800-257-5126 (or 609/419-8000),

Already, Chapter 11 has led to corporate assaults against health, safety and environmental laws, with one company demanding compensation close to $1 billion. Beyond that, even "Buy America" laws intended to protect our country's steel industry are now under attack by multi-national corporate profiteers.

Amazingly, the Bush Administration is now in negotiations to expand this dangerous NAFTA investor provision to 31 more countries in the hemisphere, through the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) as well as through bilateral deals like the U.S.-Chile or the proposed Central America Agreement (CAFTA). 

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Below are three straight-forward and important things you can do to ensure your voice is heard:

1) Urge Congress to oppose these outrageous "investor-to-state" provisions in trade and investment agreements and the FTAA. Tell Congress that Chapter 11 investor rules undermine our democratic rights to choose our own laws to protect the environment, as well as our health and safety, and that a meaningful and substantial revision of this terrible NAFTA provision is necessary. (For a list of some necessary revisions to Chapter 11, check out the letter from Congressman Doggett (D-TX) on our web-page: Congressman Doggett on Chapter 11 Revisions). CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE BY CALLING THE U.S. CAPITOL SWITCHBOARD AT 202-224-3121, OR 202-225-3121.

2) Order a copy of the documentary and arrange for a screening of it with friends/family/colleagues. To order, call Films for the Humanities and Sciences at 1.800.257.5126, and speak with Diane Bilello (ext. 8039) or Teresa Santiago (ext. 6113). Copies are $29.95 plus shipping.

3) Send a letter to the editor about Chapter 11. You can find some sample letters on our web-site: Sample Letters on "Trading Democracy."

4) Send an e-mail directly to Congress. 

For more information on Chapter 11 visit these links:

Read Global Trade Watch's recent report, "NAFTA Chapter 11 Investor-to-State Cases: Bankrupting Democracy."

Or check out a shorter article from the Multinational Monitor, "NAFTA's Investor 'Rights' A Corporate Dream, A Citizen Nightmare."

Several organizations have also released information on Chapter 11, including Center for International Environmental Law (, Friends of the Earth ( and the Sierra Club (


Documentary Exposing How NAFTA's Chapter 11 Has Become Private Justice For Foreign Companies (Newest Collaboration Between Bill Moyers And Sherry Jones Investigating Our Democracy At Risk)

Three years after a Mississippi jury found a Canadian-based conglomerate guilty of fraud in attempting to put a family-owned Biloxi funeral home out of business, the Canadian company filed a claim against the United States, demanding $725 million in compensation.

When California banned a gasoline additive that had contaminated drinking water throughout the state, another Canadian firm sued the U.S. government to force citizens to pay nearly 1 billion dollars for its potential lost profits.

In what one attorney called "an end-run around the Constitution," corporations are using a little-known provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to challenge public laws, regulations and jury verdicts not only in the United States, but in Canada and Mexico as well. And, they are arguing those cases not in courts of law, but before secret trade tribunals.

How can this be happening? And why do so few people know about it? In the latest in their series of exposés on the secret recesses of American democracy, Bill Moyers and Sherry Jones uncover how multinational corporations have acquired the power to demand compensation if laws aimed at protecting the environment or public health harm them financially.

"When the North American Free Trade Agreement became the law of the land almost a decade ago, the debate we heard was about jobs," notes Bill Moyers."One provision was too obscure to stir up controversy. It was called Chapter 11, and it was supposedly written to protect investors from having their property seized by foreign governments. But since NAFTA was ratified, corporations have used Chapter 11 to challenge the powers of government to protect its citizens, to undermine environmental and health laws, even attack our system of justice."

Speaking with legislators, public policy experts, community leaders and citizens about the lawsuits filed under NAFTA's Chapter 11, BILL MOYERS REPORTS: TRADING DEMOCRACY unravels the hidden repercussions of a treaty that was supposed to promote democracy through free trade, but now appears to have given deep-pocketed corporations the means to undermine democracy across international borders.

The program explores the case of Methanex, a Canadian company that is the world's largest producer of the key ingredient in the gasoline additive MTBE, which was found to be a carcinogen. In 1995 MTBE began turning up in wells throughout California, and by 1999 had contaminated thirty public water systems. The state ordered that the additive be phased out. Methanex filed suit under NAFTA's Chapter 11, seeking $970 million in compensation for loss of market share and, consequently, future profits. With regard to the Methanex case, environmental attorney Martin Wagner tells Moyers, "they're saying that California either can't implement this protection or that they get a billion dollars. People should be outraged by that."

As Moyers reports, many people who have been affected by MTBE contamination are indeed outraged. But they are helpless to do anything. The NAFTA tribunal that will decide the Methanex case -- like all the tribunals hearing Chapter Eleven-based cases -- is closed to the public. Yet, it is the taxpayers "who will foot the bill if the tribunal decides in favor of the Canadian company," says Moyers. But the ramifications for the public go well beyond the loss of taxpayer dollars, a journalist William Greider explains. "If Methanex wins its billion dollar claim over California environmental law, there ain't gonna be many states enacting that law, are there?" he says, adding that the NAFTA provision "hobbles the authority of government to act in the broader public interest. And, in fact, that was the idea in the first place."

Addressing a Chapter 11 case in which the Ethyl Corporation, an American manufacturer of another gasoline additive called MMT, successfully sued Canada over a ban on the product, Greider tells Moyers: "Governments are already being intimidated by the mere threat of a claim being filed against some regulatory action. If you're a civil servant, or even a political leader, you've got to think twice when a corporate lawyer comes to you and says, quite forcefully, we're going to hit you for a half a billion dollars if you do this."

Moyers also takes his investigation south of the border to the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, where an American company called Metalclad tried to bulldoze over the protests of both state and local governments to reopen a toxic waste dump that many citizens feared was making them sick. When Metalclad was stopped by the local town council the company invoked Chapter 11 and was awarded $16 million in compensation. The crux of Metalclad's victory was the Chapter 11 phrase "tantamount to expropriation."

As Martin Wagner explains: "Not only do governments have to compensate when they expropriate or take away property, but they have to do so whenever they do something that is 'tantamount to expropriation'." Challenges being mounted under Chapter 11 are not only directed toward regulatory activity, they are also successfully overruling jury decisions in civil courts of law. The documentary explores a case in Mississippi where a Biloxi funeral home owner was awarded punitive damages by a jury in a civil suit against a large Canadian corporation called the Loewen Group. The local funeral home owner alleged that the Loewen Group had engaged in "fraudulent" and "predatory" trade practices, and the jury found against the Canadian company. Three years later, the Loewen Group filed a Chapter 11 claim against American taxpayers saying the jury was biased against Canadians, and in a preliminary ruling, the NAFTA tribunal has declared the Mississippi trial a legitimate target. The Loewen suit, notes Moyers, "could conceivably open the U.S. civil justice system to challenge -- including decisions of the United States Supreme Court."

This startling realization and the knowledge that corporate giants are pushing to expand NAFTA to 31 more countries in the Western Hemisphere, prompts Moyers to ask, "Are we promoting democracy -- as we claim -- or trading it away?"

TRADING DEMOCRACY is the latest collaboration between Bill Moyers and producer Sherry Jones, who produced TRADE SECRETS: A MOYERS REPORT in March 2001. Their previous productions include WASHINGTON'S OTHER SCANDAL, the Peabody-winning investigation of campaign finance scandals in the 1996 Presidential elections, and the Emmy-winning HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS for PBS's Frontline series.

Major funding for BILL MOYERS REPORTS: TRADING DEMOCRACY was provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; The Kohlberg Foundation, Inc.; The Herb Alpert Foundation; and The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation. Corporate funding was provided by Mutual of America Life Insurance Company.

BILL MOYERS REPORTS: TRADING DEMOCRACY is produced by Public Affairs Television, Inc., in association with Washington Media Associates, and is presented on PBS by Thirteen/WNET New York. Producer: Sherry Jones editor Jennifer Beman-White; Associate Producers: Christopher Buchanan and Matilda Bode; Executive Editors: Bill Moyers and Judith Davidson Moyers; Executives in Charge: Judy Doctoroff O'Neill, Judith Davidson Moyers; Executive Producer: Felice Firestone; Executive Director of Special Projects: Deborah Rubenstein.