The Impact of Investment on Human Rights

Policy seminar on the challenges international investment poses for the protection and advancement of human rights in developing countries.

The Impact of Investment on Human Rights

Ottawa, June 11, 2003 — More than 120 guests joined Rights & Democracy today for a policy seminar on the challenges international investment poses for the protection and advancement of human rights in developing countries. Discussion addressed the imbalance between the two bodies of law governing international trade and human rights, in particular with respect to the adjudication mechanisms.

“A comprehensive policy that integrates enforceable human rights obligations with rules for investment is possible, attainable and indispensible ” said Jean-Louis Roy, President of Rights & Democracy.

The day-long event, which was held at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa, heard from several international and Canadian experts. Jim Freedman, a member of the UN Security Council panel of experts on the effect of international mining operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, provided a powerful account of the role foreign investment, including Canadian, has played in “one of the worst human rights catastrophes today.”

Describing Chapter 11 of the North America Free Trade Agreement as “a threat to democracy and the right of countries to protect their people,” Mexican academic Marie-Teresa Guti?rrez-Haces, added that Chapter 11 elevates the rights of foreign investors above those of citizens. “

Luke Peterson, a researcher for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, emphasized that there are more than 2000 bilateral investment agreements or Foreign Investment Protection Agreements as they are known in Canada, which are being used by investors in a manner similar to NAFTA’s Chapter 11.

The UN Independent Expert on the Right to Development, Dr. Arjun Sengupta, provided a thorough and provocative commentary on the relationship between investment and the right to development. “Equity and justice must be the backbone of any development structure, not simply market forces. It is not just a question of corporate social responsibility but of the state’s obligation to prosecute violations of law.”

Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, David Kilgour stated that “Canada should be the model of a responsible trading nation.”

In his comments, Mr. Roy made the following recommendations for responsible investment practises:

  • a more equitable distribution of investment to address the exclusion of vast regions of the world;
  • the establishment of rules that balance innovation and regulation, imports and exports, since the breakdown of these balances frustrates development and creates economic crises which are, in fact, social crises;
  • the protection of national policies related to the common good, including those that may be perceived as discriminatory to investors;
  • the requirement that foreign investment respects, protects and fulfils human rights obligations.

In her closing remarks, Kathleen Mahoney, Chairperson of Rights & Democracy’s Board of Directors, pointed to the clear need to redress the distance that has developed between investment practices and the protection of human rights.

“It is inconceivable that we live in a world where investment concerns take prominence over concerns for human rights ” she said. “It is time to rectify that balance “.