How to exhibit real chutzpah

You may be unaware that it’s now possible for large corporations to sue entire countries. Cancer stick manufacturers are embroiled in a case against the elected national government of Uruguay. The governors have had the sheer temerity to bring in new laws about health warnings on packets. Philip Morris regards this as a restriction of trade that will affect their profits, and are hauling Uruguay through a largely unknown, and completely secret international court, which is administered by the World Trade Organisation in Washington.

Now you would have thought that Uruguay would just stick up two fingers and tell Morris to take a long walk off a short pier. Alas no. The tobacco company claims that Uruguay has violated a Swiss-Uruguayan trade agreement that allows companies of each state to sue the other government. Where Morris comes into this is beyond me, but there you go. They’ve pulled this stunt before in Oz. Protecting the health of citizens is deemed to be less important than the profits of a multinational.

It’s happened elsewhere too. Canada banned a known toxic chemical, and the manufacturers sued them, and Canada backed down. Germany got caught in a bind when it had to change new laws on pollution because a Swedish electric company sued. The company just happened to specialise in coal-fired generation.

This is not a polemic against tobacco companies. I used to be a smoker, now I’m not, but if people wish to smoke I can see no reason they shouldn’t. They’re not breaking the law, though they will be if the more swivel eyed health police get their ways. I do however object to corporations strong-arming government. It’s outrageous. Lobbying is insidious enough, but hearings held in camera and not even in a court of law are just not right.

I’ve signed every online petition I can find to protest at this clear abuse of process. Please feel free to do likewise. You may also wish to ask some searching questions of your elected officials and find out how on earth we all got signed up to a system we’re not aware of, cannot control, operates in secret, and wields more power than the governments we actually voted for.

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