Voice for the People (V4P) is a network of organizations and individuals dedicated to the idea that globalization can and must support local communities and encourage democracy. At V4P, we believe in the power of people to create a better world. People power is responsible for forging our most vital social gains and cherished institutions—from abolition, women’s suffrage and civil rights to the weekend, minimum wages and protections for our air, water and public health. And at each step we have faced opposition from interests that benefit from our disempowerment. Today the people must confront a new menace to our effort to organize for a more just and sustainable world—corporate nationhood.
the keystone xl pipeline & the corrosive impact of corporate nationhood
Corporate nationhood allows multinational corporations to sue sovereign governments for unlimited sums of taxpayer money in offshore courts when government actions negatively affect a corporation’s bottom line. For example, our demand for a clean energy future and rejection the Keystone XL pipeline is being challenged by the multinational corporation that proposed the pipeline—TransCanada. In TransCanada Corp. v the United States of America, the American people’s victory in denying the pipeline is now in jeopardy. TransCanada is demanding $15 billion from the American people because, in their own words, “the activists strategy worked.”
Domestically, the outsized influence of corporations vis-a-vis “we the people” is of paramount concern to both the left and right (i.e. the Citizen’s United case expanding the rights of corporate personhood). Internationally, a parallel power struggle is quietly playing out. In the 1990s, multinational corporations manufactured an international court system in which they are as powerful as sovereign nations. In this “Investor-to-State Dispute System” (“ISDS”) multinationals act as litigants, judge and jury—passing judgment on everything from tobacco and financial regulations to water and climate protections. Since at least 2000, multinationals have engaged in a concerted legal campaign to wield this ISDS offshore judicial system as a weapon against the public interest.
The case of TransCanada Corp. v the United States of America is a quintessential example of how corporate nationhood undermines the power of people. The campaign to defeat the proposed KXL pipeline was a model of effective mobilization coordinated by a broad coalition of civil society groups in the U.S. and Canada—including indigenous, environmental, rancher-farmer, climate and progressive advocates. Millions of North Americans from across the political spectrum waged an 8-year campaign using time-tested strategies for social change—community education, mass mobilization and tactical legal engagement. On Nov. 6, 2015 President Obama announced that he would deny TransCanada Corporation (“TransCanada”) a permit to pipe tar sand crude oil through the U.S. The world celebrated a major climate victory and the unprecedented democratic participation inspired by this coalition. It was an encouraging example of people power and helped fuel the success of international climate negotiations in Paris.
Despite having lost in the court of public opinion and the U.S. political process, TransCanada is using an ISDS court under NAFTA to challenge our achievement. Empowered by rights conferred on all multinational corporations under NAFTA to act as sovereign countries, TransCanada is using an ISDS court to sue the United States for $15 billion in taxpayer money to compensate it for ‘unrealized profits’—i.e. it wants to be paid to not build the pipeline.
In 2016, V4P will focus our efforts on defending the significant step achieved by the people toward addressing climate change and establishing that the KXL pipeline was not in our national interest. We will challenge corporate nationhood to protect the roots of social progress—we the people.
v4p defends people power everywhere
The corporate nationhood rules fundamentally shift power to transnational corporate interests by shifting significant burdens onto communities organizing for desperately needed social change. Corporate nationhood makes it harder—or even impossible—for communities and governments to implement effective and innovative solutions to climate change, to prevent future economic crisis, and address emerging socio-economic challenges.
While corporate nationhood threatens continued progress in the U.S., it is an existential threat to the ability of communities in the developing world to build basic protections for working families, the environment and public health. Multinationals are wielding their power in these offshore ISDS courts to prevent poor countries from even considering social policies that might result in a lawsuit being filed.
The threat of such suits has prevented numerous governments from undertaking pro-people protections. Poor countries simply cannot stand up to behemoths like Monsanto or Chevron that make more money in a month than their entire population in a year. Philip-Morris is using this strategy to deadly effect. Watch this educational and hilarious colloquy by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight about Big Tobacco’s use of these offshore courts.
V4Ps’ initial focus will be the case of TransCanada Corporation v United States of America because it is among the most egregious uses of these ISDS courts. But we intend to replicate this effort in support of communities around the world who are flexing people power for a brighter, more peaceful future.
In collaboration with the Center for International Environmental Law, V4P will defend people’s right to mobilize for progress. V4P builds on the success of the civil rights and similar movements through coordinated strategic legal engagement and grassroots organizing. V4P will:
- Intervene on behalf of citizen groups by filing ‘friend of the court’ amicus curiae briefs in cases like TransCanada Corp. v U.S. where multinational corporations challenge public interest policies; and
- Advocate for fundamental reforms to the ISDS court system through grassroots organizing and mobilization.
special thanks to the center for international environmental law
Until recently, the public had been entirely locked out of these ISDS judicial processes, and few people were aware the courts existed. The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) was and continues to be at the forefront of educating the public and policy-makers about the corrosive impact of corporate nationhood, increasing transparency in the system, and ensuring that the people can participate in cases where multinationals challenge social reforms the people have rightfully earned. V4P is honored to be working with CIEL on this project, and we hope you will take time to check out the organization’s other projects here.
V4P’s current funding supports the effort of existing citizen groups to educate and mobilize their memberships, and provide legal representation to defend the public’s victory in defeating the Keystone XL pipeline. Please make a tax-deductible investment in the future of people power: Donate.