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CUPE has joined organizations around the globe calling on World Bank President Robert Zoellick to rein in the bank’s trade tribunal. The International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes’ (ICSID) rulings favour corporate – not citizen – rights.

CUPE is among 863 groups from 59 countries who signed a petition to Zoellick, who chairs the ICSID Administrative Council. The petition, released today, was triggered by the bank’s refusal to respect Bolivia’s withdrawal from the arbitration court.

Last May, Bolivia became the first country in the world to withdraw from ICSID, citing the court’s record of favoring narrow corporate interests over public services and the public good.  ICSID is now refusing to respect the Bolivian government’s actions and allowing a case brought by a European telecommunications company to proceed.

The global petition reflects growing concerns about a system of investor rights that undermines democracy and human rights. The notorious Bechtel v Bolivia case highlights the problems with investor-state dispute bodies like ICSID.  In 2001, a subsidiary of Bechtel sued South America’s poorest country over a failed water privatization. After five years of intense public pressure, the company dropped the case.

Bolivia is one of several governments, including Argentina, that are challenging the excessive corporate protections in free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. ICSID is the most widely used mechanism for enforcing these rules.

Although the Bolivian government followed proper procedures in withdrawing from ICSID, a tribunal is still on track to hear a case brought by Euro Telecom International (ETI), a company incorporated in the Netherlands whose owners include Telecom Italia and the Spanish Telefónica.  ETI owns 50 per cent of ENTEL, which provides more than 60 per cent of Bolivia’s telephone services.

The petitioners include 863 labor, environmental, religious, consumer, small farmer, human rights, women’s, development, and peace organizations from five continents.  The Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, DC-based research organization, initiated the petition. 

The institute has a detailed background report on the investor-state dispute system,  Challenging Corporate Investor Rule.

The petition is available in English and French