Pharrell Williams: Silenced by TTIP?
Pharrell Williams, who this June had been due to head a global music event to get the world’s population behind stopping climate change, has pulled out of the event for ‘personal reasons’.
Mr. Williams was unavailable for comment, but a source close to Al Gore, who is behind the pro-environment music extravaganza (reportedly involving one hundred acts on seven continents), said that the U.S. government had threatened to revoke entertainment licences and security cover due to fossil fuel companies threatening to sue for compensation under TTIP legislation. Far-fetched ? but maybe not as implausible as you think.
…would allow corporations to sue governments for ‘loss of profits’ due to policy changes and irrespective of changes in democratically elected national governments
Consider this: it was only on January 15 this year that the European Commission published its analysis of the almost 150,000 replies to its online consultation on investment protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The consultation had ensued after an outcry from vigilant organisations and individuals about pernicious clauses in the ISDS which, as drafted, would allow corporations to sue governments for ‘loss of profits’ due to policy changes and irrespective of changes in democratically elected national governments. There are 3,000 ISDS agreements across the world; 1,400 in Europe and 94 in the UK.
A key unanswered question is why this swingeing agreement between the E.U. and the U.S. is being negotiated in secret and, until recently, with many of the Commission’s documents stamped, ‘classified‘? Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Trade, had herself said, “We need to have an open and frank discussion about investment protection, ISDS and TTIP with EU governments, with the European Parliament and with civil society before launching any policy recommendations in this area.” Negotiations on the ISDS have been temporarily paused – but it took an outcry to achieve even this re-think.
TTIP apologists in the UK argue that the UK government has never lost an ISDS action here; but in Uruguay (annual revenues $53bn) tobacco giant Philip Morris (annual revenues $87bn) is suing the country for increasing the size of health warnings on cigarette packs and circumscribing the use of brand extensions such as ‘Marlboro Green’ that suggest cigarettes are safe to smoke. So what of the plain packaging being proposed in the UK?
In 2008, Swedish utility Vattenfall won its case against the German government which sought to restrict the company’s water usage. It launched an action in 2012 seeking €4.7bn to compensate for Berlin’s decision to phase out nuclear power, leading to two atomic power stations’ closure, after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.
The latest EU-US initiative (leaked in a draft negotiating proposal dated December 2014) seeks to establish a Regulatory Cooperation Body (RCB) that would give institutional status to corporate involvement and influence in the preliminary run-up to policy changes and away from judicial and democratic scrutiny. These ‘dispute resolution processes’ are very open to corporate manipulation; and to the ‘double bubble’ (known as ‘branching’) by which actions can be simultaneously pursued in domestic and international Courts; and actions run in countries with the weakest legal systems. All this should sound a salutary warning.
From our Arts Social Action perspective, it is reassuringly clear that Al Gore, like many before him, has homed in on an art- form – music in performance – because of the Arts’ long-proven capacity to bring people together and motivate them in a common cause.
And, as recent events surrounding Charlie Hebdo have shown, Satire too is an art-form with the power to provoke, inform, and inspire that becomes especially acute and relevant when danger is at hand. Since the days of Aristophanes, satirists have challenged taboos across all levels of society – John Donne, Lord Byron, Mikhail Bulgakov, Voltaire (whose treatise on Tolerance became a bestseller post Charlie and, according to publishers Gallimard, sold 120,000 copies).
So legislation like TTIP – allowing corporations to sue governments for changing their policies and laws – not only restricts our elected representatives’ collective ability to tax and regulate corporations (often the funders of anti-social investment); but also, taken to a logical extreme, inhibits their right to speak-out and promote activities that sustain the planet for the greater good.
…companies with fossil fuel reserves might be able, on the basis that their profits were being damaged, to sue and maybe bankrupt, some governments which switched to renewable energy…
In October last year, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney told a World Bank seminar that the “vast majority of fossil fuel reserves are unburnable” if global temperature rises are to be limited to below 2C. Yet with TTIP in place, companies with fossil fuel reserves might be able, on the basis that their profits were being damaged, to sue and maybe bankrupt, some governments which switched to renewable energy.
A fundamental problem is that corporate power has become more than a fatly financed lobby, and aspires to become a governing power; while our democracies are under threat of being traduced by being treated as markets in which voters’ votes can be bought rather than nations whose citizens have rights and responsibilities.
So Al Gore and Pharrell Williams join a distinguished line of those in the Arts and throughout the ages who have applied creative, artistic talent to galvanising social change and action. Commitments on climate change are essential at the Paris summit in December this year to secure a cut in global emissions big enough to avert an irreversible rise in global warming – and a threatened end to life on earth as we know it.
All the Arts share a potential key role and creative competence to help give climate change top billing though these crucial months; and their publics will love them the more for so doing!