fb tracking

Report: Corporate Tribunals Violate Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Latin America

Join the Live Report Launch via Zoom Now, 2 - 5 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Archaic investment arbitration rules embedded in free trade agreements continue to punish and systematically exclude Indigenous and frontline communities in Latin America, according to a new report Public Citizen released today. This system, known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), has dire implications for human rights, environmental protection, and corporate accountability efforts.

The report, titled the Corporate Colonization of Latin America: How ISDS Harms Indigenous Communities, traces the origins of ISDS as a post-colonial tool that corporations wield in former and neo-colonial powers to continue patterns of exploitation and extractivism and harm to Indigenous communities in Latin America.

Through numerous case studies, the report highlights how international investment law under ISDS conflicts with international law protecting Indigenous peoples’ rights and further harms Indigenous communities by: excluding their participation, fueling social unrest, enabling ecological destruction of their ancestral lands, and undermining their sovereignty.

Iza Camarillo, author of the report and Global Trade Watch research director for Public Citizen, previously worked as a litigator defending states in ISDS arbitrations.

“My time as an ISDS defense attorney exposed me to the plight of Indigenous peoples in these proceedings and their unique challenges and obstructions to justice,” said Camarillo. “Time and time again, I witnessed how these communities bore the brunt of corporate exploitation and environmental degradation without receiving recognition within the ISDS system or the reparations they rightfully deserved. The damage caused to Indigenous peoples and their territories was irreparable, and I became convinced that the ISDS system as a whole must be eliminated.”

Afro-descendant and Indigenous community leaders from Honduras and Ecuador impacted by egregious ISDS cases joined Public Citizen at a public launch event today, co-sponsored by Amazon Watch, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), and Columbia University’s Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI). Join the live event via Zoom now

“If protecting nature, protecting our rights, and the climate threatens a company’s investment, then that’s a problem. Companies should be punished for contamination and rights abuses – not rewarded. They shouldn’t be given a get-out-of-jail-free card by some arbitration court. We are paying the price with our lands, lives, and our culture,” said Consuelo Piaguage, Siekopai Indigenous leader from a community still facing the health and environment repercussions of decades of toxic pollution by a company in the Amazon.

While, after years of litigation, the community won a historic ruling in Ecuadorian courts, which ordered the company to pay to clean up its mess, large oil companies then used the ISDS system to force Ecuadorian taxpayers to pay them.

Venessa Cárdenas, a Black-English and Afro-Indigenous member of the Crawfish Rock patronage in Honduras, shared her community’s struggle against an ISDS case involving private cities known as ZEDEs, in which Honduran law does not apply.

“The ZEDEs cropped up out of nowhere one day and we have seen devastating environmental harm to our community ever since,” said Cárdenas. “We were not consulted, no one asked if they had permission to build or what the project would entail. We have been in this territory for centuries and the [foreign investors] keep expanding. Since they arrived, the environment has changed. We are experiencing floods for the first time, our river has dried up, threatening many species of plants and animals.”

After Honduran voters successfully changed the corrupt law that allowed for this affront to their sovereignty, the Delaware-based Próspera company launched a $10.7 billion ISDS case against Honduras, two thirds of the county’s annual budget.

The report outlines policy recommendations for how governments can remove the threat of ISDS to Indigenous and frontline communities by terminating existing bilateral investment treaties, removing the survival clauses, and amending free trade agreements to remove ISDS. It also suggests interim measures to safeguard Indigenous rights.

The report comes just days after the Sierra Club released an alarming new analysis of the damage ISDS does to our climate. Dozens of members of Congress, 300 law and economics professors, and more than 200 U.S. civil society organizations have called on the Biden administration to work to remove ISDS from existing trade and investment pacts.