The City of London by nightPhoto: Davide D'Amico

Trade and investment liberalisation are considered by many to be important instruments of development policy. In practice, global trade and investment regimes focus on securing profits for corporations and foreign investors above all else.

Regulations which protect and benefit citizens, such as union rights, consumer and environmental protection, and financial regulation are described as barriers to investment and growth, rather than sound social policy.

Many trade and investment agreements include investment protection and arbitration clauses that allow corporations to sue governments for policies that may adversely affect profits. A health warning on cigarettes, a ban on open-pit mining, and a plan to phase-out coal are but a few real examples of social policies that sparked the threat of corporate legal action.

Transparency and democracy around trade and investment decisions is woefully lacking. Negotiations are conducted behind closed doors. Investment disputes are handled by private tribunals, rather than regular courts.

SOMO examines a wide variety of trade and investment mechanisms, analysing their impact on society and sustainable development goals. We also study their implications for financial and other regulatory frameworks. We advocate for modern trade and investment policies that contribute simultaneously to social justice, sustainability, and just economic development. We stimulate political debate around planned trade agreements – like TTIP, CETA and TISA – that conflict with these goals.

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the bigger picture

Economic Justice

Today’s economic system is a system for corporations and investors: it maximises their profits regardless of the social and environmental costs.

Private gain, public loss

SOMO’s research reveals how the current economic and financial system perpetuates economic inequality, and how it exacerbates the power imbalance between the private sector and civil society. Through corporate tax avoidance. Through trade and investment agreements that give companies the right to sue governments for enacting sound social policy. Through a volatile financial system that is increasingly disconnected from the real economy. It is a system of private gain and public loss that leaves ordinary people paying the price.

Our focus is on the social and economic impact of tax treaties and regimes, trade and investment mechanisms and agreements, and the practices and lobby of the financial sector. We pay particular attention to the impact of Dutch and EU policies on low-income countries, examining the degree to which they cohere with sustainable development policies and human rights frameworks.

Fundamental changes

We work with others in the Netherlands, in Europe, and across the globe, to fundamentally change the economic system so it serves the public interest and facilitates a more equitable distribution of resources. Our goal is for people to be able to control their own economic lives through democratic processes.

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Updates on this topic

Making sense of CETA

An analysis of the final text of the Canada–European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement
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Chicken Run

The business strategies and impact of poultry producer MHP in Ukraine
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