The David-Goliath battle between Uruguay and Philip Morris is an iconic case because it so clearly illustrates the way corporations can use international investment treaties to attack regulations made in the public interest.
So does Big Tobacco’s defeat by Uruguay mean that the growing public opposition to these investment treaties is mistaken? The corporate arbitration lawyers that take up many of the cases – and their supportive political allies – are keen to say that it proves the system can work fairly.
The question however is for whom is the system working? In investment arbitration cases, states never win. States can never file lawsuits against investors, so the best-case scenario for them is if the tribunal dismisses the investor’s accusations.
We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up