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Despite some modest progress, corporate responsibility for human rights abuses in domestic courts remains elusive. In U.S. federal courts, Alien Tort Statute (ATS) litigation is now more precarious than ever before. While there have been some potentially important developments in English courts, judges are reluctant to extend responsibility to parent corporations for harm caused by the operations of foreign subsidiaries. Although U.S. and English courts have been concerned with distinct doctrinal issues, the overall picture appears to be one of deference to the corporation and its anatomized form, and to the goal of promoting investment abroad.
The issue of investor responsibility reveals a stubborn bias within international investment law. That law addresses mistreatment by host states of foreign investors but consistently fails to address investor misconduct in host states. The traditional emphasis on state responsibility in this context has allowed abusive, pollutive, and corrupt investor behavior to thrive. International investment law is the current object of scrutiny, criticism, and reform in large part because many see it as overprotecting investors. However, scholars and reformers have focused on state responsibility, tinkering with the legal and institutional conditions that determine the international wrongfulness of state conduct. Unless and until investor responsibility is integrated into international investment law reform, the overprotection of investors owing to an accountability gap will continue to undermine its legitimacy. This essay posits that the first step to integration is understanding why investor responsibility scrabbles to find purchase in international investment law. I argue that elusive investor responsibility was created by omission, with injurious consequences that highlight the need to alter, rather than accept, the status quo.
International investment law is relational. It is about how we define and govern the relationship between the actors involved in and affected by foreign investment projects. Most international investment law literature confirms the relational nature of this field. The scholarship has analyzed the resolution of specific disputes and the regulatory relationship between foreign investors and host states. As could be expected, some of the key issues that have emerged include states’ right to regulate, the risk of regulatory chill, and how to review state regulation. There is, however, an important blind spot in this relational approach. A look at many foreign investment disputes, particularly in the natural resource extraction sector, shows that local communities are also central protagonists of foreign investment projects. These communities have a lot at stake but have remained almost invisible to the international investment regime. Apart from the ability to submit amicus curiae briefs, they have neither rights nor remedies in this regime. This essay discusses international investment law from an inclusive relational perspective, and shows how, contrary to this perspective, recent awards in investor-state dispute settlement continue to render invisible local communities and their rightful aspirations.
The need to address negative impacts of foreign investment on the environment, public health, and human rights has long been acknowledged. Drawing on recent case studies, this essay focuses on a number of concerns that arise when investors seek to unduly influence host government decision-making, including in the context of national policy-making in the public interest. This essay argues that International Investment Agreements (IIAs) should begin to more directly incorporate investor responsibilities so to avoid detrimental societal impacts of foreign investment and to maximize foreign investment's positive contribution to host communities. A fundamental reframing of IIA objectives is key in overcoming the existing resistance to incorporating investor obligations in new and amended treaties.
This essay suggests that amidst the various criticisms of investor-state arbitration, the most potent is the present inadequacy of this mechanism to establish a reciprocal responsibility of foreign investors. The founders of the modern era of international investment arbitration never intended to build a one-way street. In this sense, to seek a regime of investor responsibility may not be to reach toward a new frontier so much as to return to one that is familiar, though underexplored.
While the rule of law was originally developed with reference to domestic constitutional orders, it is also widely embraced by international lawyers. This essay argues that the admission of counterclaims in certain circumstances helps investment arbitration advance the rule of law on several counts. The rule of law is defined here to include not only formal elements such as rule-by-law and formal legality, but also “thicker” elements attached to certain substantive values, including fundamental human rights. The UN's work on the rule of law clearly adopts a broad interpretation of this concept. This essay examines the potential for counterclaims to bridge the gap between the lack of effective mechanisms to hold foreign investors accountable for their conduct and the extensive protection of foreign investors in international investment law. By doing so, counterclaims in investment arbitration may promote the thicker elements of the rule of law such as accountability to the law, access to justice, and fairness in the application of the law.