Webinar on Trade & Investment

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On Thursday, September 22, ESCR-Net's Working Group on Economic Policy and Human Rights held the first Webinar on Trade and Investment, with opening presentations by Tessa Khan (Climate Litigation Network), Zahra Bazzi (Arab NGO Network for Development), and Diyana Yahaya (Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development).

Webinar on Trade & Investment - ESCR-Net's Economic Policy and Human Rights


The theme for this webinar discussion emerged from an analysis report built on interviews with diverse members across every region. A related briefing note and resources are available below, following a brief summary of the webinar.

Summary of the webinar

The webinar on trade and investment drew on the contributions of ESCR-Net members to outline the challenges that current trade and investment policy and practice pose to the realization of human rights, as well as the strategies that have been developed to dismantle harmful policies. The discussion began with an overview of the evolution of trade and investment liberalization, including the key role played by the World Trade Organisation and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in advocating for the free trade agenda.

The proliferation of free trade agreements (FTAs) outside of the auspices of the WTO was also highlighted, as well as the intense scrutiny of such agreements—like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—by civil society. Discussants noted that the human rights impacts of such agreements can include violations of labour rights in export-oriented sectors, particularly women’s rights, and that the liberalization of services sectors threaten to undermine a range of economic and social rights, including the rights to food and water.

The regime of investor-state dispute settlement that is often included in FTAs was also singled out as entrenching the rights of investors over the rights of individuals and communities. This was highlighted as a key example of the asymmetry in the power of capital versus the power of people. Discussants also considered the lack of transparency around the negotiation of free trade policies to be further evidence of the erosion of democratic space in the global economy.

To counter this, a number of strategies for resisting and mobilizing against harmful trade policies were identified, including building narratives and models that don’t just critique current agreements but which offer real alternatives that advance a sustainable, human rights-based and gender-equitable approach; constructively engaging with governments in developing countries who have often subscribed to agreements in the absence of real evidence of any economic benefit and who often lack the capacity to engage on an equal footing in negotiations; and working with civil society in different regions to ensure information is shared and that cross-regional solidarity is developed.

Briefing Note on Trade and Investment

This briefing note outlines the implications of trade and investment liberalisation for the enjoyment of human rights and social and economic equality. It considers the policies implemented through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as well as through free trade agreements concluded outside of the WTO (including consideration of intellectual property rights provisions, trade in services, and investor-state dispute settlement). Finally, the impact of trade liberalisation on the right to work and workers’ rights is considered.


Below is an initial list of resources on a range of trade, investment and human rights issues that can also be found with descriptions in the above briefing note. We welcome members and partners to suggest other relevant resources to highlight.

Selected Resources from ESCR-Net Members:

  • Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, ‘Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP): Robbing Communities to Extract Profit’ (2016), available in English.
  • Arab NGO Network for Development, ‘IMF’s Trade and Investment Related Advice to Arab Countries: Trends and Implications’ (2013), available in English.
  • CIEL, The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Environment: An Assessment of Commitments and Trade Agreement Enforcement (2015), available in English
  • Democracy Center, ‘Unfair, Unsustainable and Under the Radar: How Corporations use Global Investment Rules to Undermine a Sustainable Future’ (2013), available in English and Spanish.
  • ESCR-Net ‘Global Economy, Global Rights’ (2014), available in EnglishFrenchSpanish and Arabic.
  • ESCR-Net, Women and ESCR Working Group Briefing Paper: the intersection between work and women’s economic, social and cultural rights (2016), available in English and Spanish. 

Other Resources:

  • ActionAid, Trading Up, Crowded Out: Ensuring Economic Diversification Works for Women (2016), available in English
  • Alternative Trade Mandate, ‘Time for a New Vision’ (2015), available in English.
  • ETC Group ‘Putting the Cartel before the Horse...and Farm, Seeds, Soil, Peasants, etc.; Who Will Control Agricultural Inputs?’ (2013), available in English and Spanish.
  • GRAIN, New Trade Deals Legalise Corporate Theft, Make Farmers Seeds Illegal’ (2016), available in EnglishFrench and Spanish.
  • Sarah Joseph, Blame it on the WTO? A Human Rights Critique (2012), available in English
  • Kalvajit Singh & Burghard Ilge (eds.) Rethinking Bilateral Investment Treaties: Critical Issues and Policy Choices (2016), available in English and Dutch.
  • Third World Network, ‘Potential Human Rights Impacts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’ (2015), available in English.
  • UN Commission on Trade and Development, ‘World Investment Report: Reforming International Investment Governance’ (UNCTAD) (2015), available in English.
  • UN Women, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights (2015), available in English