Investment Arbitration and Development: Shedding a light on the world of investment protection

Investment Arbitration and Development: Shedding a light on the world of investment protection

Organisation: OneWorld / De Groene Amsterdammer / IPS (Netherlands)

Publication Date: 01/15/2016

Size of team/newsroom:small


There are many investment treaties in the world. An important part of these treaties is the so-called dispute settlement mechanism, through which investors can sue governments for decisions and policies that harm their investments. There is a lot of debate around these arbitration mechanisms. Our project aimed to better inform these debates. The project consisted of three parts. The first part was the creation of a database with all known investment protection disputes, 627 cases, that are held or have been held in the last two decades (1987-2014). We plotted our data on an interactive map that illustrated how ISDS is a western, neoliberal invention that mostly targets developing countries. It providesan easily accessible way of learning about ISDS cases. The second part was a story that maps the different actors in the field of investment protection, from lawyers, companies, arbitrators, host countries to respondent countries. The legal sector is shrouded in secrecy. Some companies offer "dispute handling" on a no cure no pay basis, and claim to recover millions of dollars by sueing governments. We uncovered who is involved in this sector, where court cases are handled behind close doors, and where fees are not made public. The third part focused on the Dutch Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). These treaties are known for their strong investment protection. More than 10 percent of all known investor-state disputes worldwide are based on a Dutch investment treaty. However, in 75 percent of all cases it's not a Dutch company, but just a mailbox company registered in the Netherlands. To make this third part very concrete, the team highlighted a few developing countries against which interesting suits were filed. One is Indonesia. This country announced it will not renew its BIT with the Netherlands after July 1, 2015. One of the reasons was a dispute with an American mining company, that used a Dutch subsidiary and this treaty to get exemptions from the Indonesian policy to regulate its mining sector. The second country is Venezuela, which has also terminated its Dutch BIT. However, investors can use this treaty until 2023 to file suits against the government. This is done extensively by oil and mining companies that have their seat registered in Amsterdam. The third country is Uganda. In April, Uganda was sued by Total, a French oil company which registered its Ugandan activities in the Netherlands. The story focused on how Dutch investment protection affects a developing country with which the Netherlands has a strong aid relationship. The research was funded by the Innovation in Development Reporting Grant of the EJC. Our research project was published in English and Dutch. Through our publishing partner IPS stories were published in Belgium, Spain, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and more. For all publications, please see: . All articles:

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

Talk is cheap. Yet public outcry about ISDS has recently soared on the basis of doubtful claims. With a smart use of data research and visualization we added fact to an often misinformed debate about a hot topic. In addition, data journalism in the Netherlands has often been limited to creating a visual that would go nice with a story. In this project, the data visualization was one of three pillars of our research. The software was specifically developed for this project, but will be available for new projects as well. The interactive map lets users explore the world of ISDS. By clicking on the receiving country of an ISDS-claim, readers can explore details about the cases. We also provided the map 'the other way around'. So that by clicking on the origin country of a claim, you can find details about the case. This way, you can explore ISDS cases from the perspective of your (or any) country as both receiver or origin of claims. It provides a fair and balanced way of reporting data. This was a highly innovative project because the data was not available as such anywhere in the world. We had to gather it from many different sources (see Technologies Used) and our map plotting all cases was the first of its kind in the world. Shortly after our publication, UNCTAD, the UN Committee on Trade and Development, also published a map. However, it is not as complete and it doesn't provide the interactive network aspect. Moreover, we have made an effort to make sure our project had a worldwide reach, because ISDS is not a mere Dutch or even European affair. It concerns all countries because trade treaties (and dispute mechanisms) are ubiquitous. As mentioned above, we have been succesfull in publishing in many different countries and languages. Translations of our stories in German and Swedish are forthcoming.

Technologies used for this project:

We have gathered data from thirteen different sources on ISDS cases, using the UCNTAD list as backbone. As all of the additional sources contained missing values, we had to fill many of them manually by looking through numerous PDFs with details on the cases at the italaw-website. In the end, we ended up with a pretty complete table with all the values (corrected for inflation), most of the arbitrators and interesting descriptions of the cases. The script to merge them as well as the tables with sources were published on our github. Our interactive map of all ISDS cases was custom made by our OneWorld Data Atlas team. Source code for the map is as well published on github under an open source license. It allows the user to explore the world of ISDS through visualizing the cases as an interactive network map. By clicking on the receiving country, reader can explore details about the cases. The video was also made with help of our OneWorld Data Atlas. With AfterEffects we have then create a video containing a comprehensive overview of the distribution of claimant and respondent countries of ISDS cases from 1987 to 2014. For the remaining visualizations we have used Datawrapper, RAW and Inkscape.


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