By Sophie Broad
Corporate power and the environment – the TTIP trade deal could be detrimental to the protection of the planet, but corporations are already a major threat.
The Transatlantic Trade and Partnership (TTIP) is the trade and investment agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. The main purpose of this trade deal, as stated by the European Commission, is to remove trade barriers described as ‘red tape’, which are viewed as obstacles to trade, to boost the economy, “create jobs and widen choice and lower prices for consumers”.
Critics of the the trade agreement argue the removal of these barriers could impose significant changes to existing regulations that are in place to protect and maintain high standards for environmental, health and food safety. Organisations in opposition to TTIP, such as Friends of the Earth, have argued the weakening of EU regulations would work increase profits at the expense of the environment. The restrictions currently placed on their trade would be lowered, allowing them to maximise their profit. Most recently, it has been revealed that the EU dropped proposals to ban 31 pesticides because of the ongoing negotiations.
Corporate accountability is at the forefront of TTIP discussions. The agreement is being negotiated to include the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), allowing corporations to challenge governments in private international trade courts with the intention to claim compensation for profit losses as a result of any legislation. ISDS certainly appears to be an unpopular prospect and MEPs are in opposition of the inclusion of ISDS in negotiations. European trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström, however, is unlikely to back down to exclude this, claiming that “excluding ISDS from TTIP means missing the best chance to reform the system for a generation”.
Discussions about TTIP have highlighted the problem of growing corporate power and the lack of accountability. Yet, truthfully many trade agreements are already in existence which have given corporations the power to sue governments because of the inclusion of ISDS or similar provisions. ISDS has enabled companies to challenge authorities and pursue proceedings against them. According to The Economist, there were 56 investor-state dispute cases in 2013. In 2012 Ecuador was ordered to pay Occidental Petroleum $1.77 billion in damages for ending their contract because the oil company had broken Ecuadorian laws. In recent years, a court ruling threw out Ecuador’s claim for $19 billion in damages against oil company Chevron for contaminating the Amazonian rainforest. Chevron have been accused of causing irreversible damage to the environment, which has also had disastrous effects for the local communities and avoided taking full responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
Many more companies are at present a pressing concern for many environmentalists. The growing palm oil industry has drastically increased the rate of deforestation. Wilmar International, despite making a pledge of sustainability in 2013 of “no deforestation, no exploitation”, communities in Nigeria are still suffering the ongoing destruction and pollution of their land. The Rainforest Resource & Development Centre in Nigeria has brought forward a lawsuit against Wilmar, which is hoped to be heard this month.
Barack Obama’s administration has very recently approved plans for Shell to drill in the Alaskan arctic for oil. This is a decisions that has been widely criticised, especially since the Bureau of Ocean Energy management has stated that there is a “75% risk of one or more large spills”. Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign has gained over 6 million signatures in a petition against the drilling proposals. They argue that profit is driving both Shell and the US government, and the threat of long-term damage to the arctic environment is being ignored. It seems implausible to be able to trust governments to reduce climate change and protect the environment when they are in agreement and working with companies that go against these principles. Pressure groups and non-governmental organisations appear to be the only way to demonstrate widespread discontent with the actions being taken by corporate giants. They, along with activism, have an important role in keeping corporate power in check and monitoring whether they are acting ethically and responsibly.
Even in the UK there is still money being pumped into subsidising the fossil fuel industry that is exploiting the environment without responsibility over the consequences only to ensure a steady flow of money. It’s important to remember that Cardiff University invests in these industries, along with many other universities across the UK. Despite a petition having started when this information came to light in December, the University has defended its policy and the conversation has moved on, but it is important that there is awareness around this topic.
The threat is real: the destructive nature of many corporations is severely damaging the planet. It is feared that TTIP negotiations, if successful, could entrench a corporate rule over the EU, whereby profit takes precedence over the well being of the planet and governments will have little power to hold corporations to account for their actions. This would be a backward step for Europe, and halt genuine progression in terms of current environmental issues. We need EU legislation to keep corporations in check, TTIP proposes the opposite. The inclusion of ISDS in TTIP would move the EU away from a system of corporate accountability to an increase in corporate freedom.
The environment is in the hands of those who see it as a economic investment with no thought for long-term implications. We not only face increasing dominance and dependence on these corporations, but we are placing them in higher value than the planet we live on. The restricted powers governments across the globe have against corporate actions not only jeopardises the environment, but compromises democracy.