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Our shadowy corporate overlords

man in shadow

Michael under a Creative Commons Licence

The good thing about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is that simply mentioning their names takes up almost half my word count for this column. Sure, they’re a catastrophic assault on democracy – but they also make my job phenomenally easy. Therefore, I for one welcome our new shadowy corporate overlords.

TTIP presents the activists among us with the twin problems of being so boringly bureaucratic that no-one cares, yet so ludicrous that as soon as you try to spread the word, you sound like a conspiracy theorist.

For example, take the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which not only further handsomely boosts my word count, but also defies belief. An ISDS gives private investors the ability to sue governments for introducing legislation that harms their profits. But there’s a reason laws related to air quality or employment rights exist: to protect us and make life nicer! An ISDS makes as much sense as letting ISIS sue France for making terrorism illegal.

The Guardian notes a similar example: ‘An Australian firm is suing El Salvador’s government for $300 million for refusing permission for a goldmine over concerns it would poison the drinking water.’ Which is completely fair, isn’t it? I mean, be reasonable: how are murderers expected to generate shareholder value with all this red tape in the way? In the gold industry, sometimes people need to die. That’s just a fact. And besides, would you rather be dull and alive, or wearing jewellery and dead? Exactly. Gimme that bling with a sweet side of poison!

In what world does it make sense to hand over democratically accountable power to non-accountable corporate interests? Companies argue that these laws will hurt their sales. But that’s the whole bloody point. We’re stopping you from doing terrible things! You shouldn’t get compensation for that.

A better-known example of ISDS is cigarette giant Philip Morris claiming $25 million compensation from Uruguay after it announced plans to increase the size of health warnings on cigarette packets. In any sane world, we’d be suing them! It’s like a thief taking a pub to court for putting up signs telling people to beware of pickpockets. ‘I’m suing you for lost earnings. How do you expect me to steal people’s wallets with all these warnings around the place?’

ISDSs aren’t exactly popular. In fact, 97 per cent of responses to a recent European Union survey on ISDSs were negative. You’ve got to admit, that’s quite high. In fact, the opposition is so strong that I’m a trifle worried a corporation will sue us all for hindering their ability to take us to court.

Do you know what? I say: let corporations sue us. We’ll just refuse to pay. What are they going to do, invade us? I’d like to see a cigarette company try. Okay, maybe a company like BAE Systems actually could. But the point is, there has to be a way to resist it. Each country should start its own investor courts. For every penny a company tries to claim for lost profit, we counter-sue for lost lives, for a poorer environment, for untold misery. Believe me: if El Salvador did that, they really would have a gold rush on their hands.

Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian and anti-austerity activist. Follow him on Twitter: chris_coltrane. His show ‘Activism Is Fun’ is a free download at chriscoltrane.com

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