I’m sure by now most of you will be aware of the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. You will have heard many people, including myself, say how bad this seems to be, I say seems to be because it’s so secret even our elected representatives who will be voting the thing into power aren’t allowed to study it in any detail.
A trade agreement that will influence every single transaction between the nations who sign it, something which, according to reports, allows corporations to sue governments because national laws get in the way of sales and profits. Can’t be having those environmental, health and safety or other laws getting in the way of the corporate money making machine.
An example of how open and honest this deal is came not long ago from Germany where MPs, the elected representatives of the German people were allowed just two hours to look at the 300+ page agreement, weren’t allowed to make copies and aren’t allowed to discuss the contents with advisers or legal and trade experts.
British MPs have recently been allowed access but UK business minister Anna Soubry agreed to provide a room and grant MPs permission to see the document on condition that they took no more than a pen and paper into the room, and all electronic devices were banned. Also the same rules applied in German would apply here, anyone who is allowed to even see the TTIP agreement is bound by a confidentiality agreement not to discuss it.
That democracy thing, where we elect people to represent us on the understanding they they will actually represent out best interests, yep, those people, the ones who will be voting on an agreement they have only just been allowed to see and aren’t allowed to talk to us about no matter how bad it is.
Yea, that one.
Democracy. I remember it well.
One particularly important part of this is the repeatedly reported fact that corporations can take legal action as a result of lost profits OR the anticipation of lost FUTURE PROFITS. So a company could take legal action under the terms of the agreement if they even THINK a national law would restrict their ability to make a profit or even how much profit they could make.
Now let’s add part two of the loss of freedom.
Our caring Conservative government is getting in on the act with what may seem to be just a local piece of legislation that will make it Illegal to boycott any company's or nations goods. This is primarily being presented as an anti Semitic measure since it seems to be targeted on the many organisations and councils that have chosen to boycott goods from Israel.
For those who have missed the news on this, our government (the Tories) have pushed through a law making it a crime for any public body to refuse to buy the goods of any nation or company as a result of a general boycott. It was announced a few days ago but anyone waiting for it to go before parliament to be argued, too late, it’s already here.
The law makes it an offense for any organisation partly or fully funded by the taxpayer to operate any purchase or sales boycott that affects all goods belonging to any corporation or nation. It means councils, hospital trusts, universities, publicly funded lobby groups and a whole slew of other organisations are no longer allowed to apply any ethical consideration to their purchasing or sale practices.
Ethics and morals, that thing where you think a company or nation is doing wrong so you decide not to do business with them.
This is specifically intended to block boycotts of Israeli goods but it’s so open and loopholed that it can apply absolutely anywhere. Anti smoking or cancer charity that receives funding from the government, oops sorry guys, not allowed to boycott those big tobacco companies. Fed up with a company abusing its staff so you don’t want to do business with them, nope. Green council or hospital, interested in only buying from fair trade countries or companies, sorry people, that is an ethical bias, fancy getting arrested or fined, go ahead, be ethical.
Now let’s look at these two taken together.
We have one trade agreement that is so secret we don’t even know everything about it but we have heard enough to be worried about the power it gives corporations over nations or people and then we have a law which in effect, criminalises free choice when it comes to being a public sector consumer.
Well at present it is only the public sector but given my low opinion of the government I’m sure someone, somewhere has already considered applying this to everyone who receives tax payer funding, like say, benefits recipients.
But I hear you say, it only applies to boycotting a company or nation.
Yep, that’s what it says, question is, how exactly are you going to prove that you aren’t boycotting someone when you don’t buy their goods? Any nation, any company, they can stand up and claim that because there is public opposition to their policies they are being boycotted. It’s an easy thing to do, you just get mentioned a few times in newspaper headlines as doing something bad and you have a ready made case for being secretly boycotted.
Then when someone doesn’t buy your goods, hey they are obviously boycotting me.
You, the customer, are suddenly guilty and forced to prove your innocence, a task made all but impossible if you have ever been recording as speaking out against the policies or actions of that nation or company. In effect if you are a part or fully tax payer funded organisation and you have ever been recorded as saying something bad about someone it becomes a crime NOT to buy from them.
But you say Israel isn’t a signatory of TTIP (so far).
Many European and US companies who are covered by the deal buy and sell not just to Israel but to the rest of the world. So if you are any sort of organisation that receives public funds and you decide you will buy Spanish oranges rather than Israeli oranges because you oppose Israeli political acts and those Israeli oranges are being marketed by a UK company, you are guilty of a crime.
You could then end up in court having to demonstrate that the Spanish Oranges were cheaper or better quality and that you didn’t buy those Israeli oranges because of purely commercial reasons.
A situation tailor made for bullying small and medium organisations that can’t afford to face such a legal challenge. Any publicly funded group who takes a stance on ethical or moral grounds is in the cross-hairs here.
Now bring in TTIP. This British law, in effect, makes ethical buying a crime, do so and you are presumed guilty and need to prove yourself innocent. Enter the 800lb gorilla, with a legal case that you, as a tax payer funded organisation, are refusing to buy their goods on anything that could be considered ethical grounds or as part of a boycott. A situation where the British government has already decided you are guilty.
Refuse to buy from a TTIP covered company or nation, affect their profits or even speak out and encourage others not to buy from them and affect their potential future profits, according to a number of reports the TTIP agreement gives them a case to sue you in your country because it has been ratified by your government. Even freedom of speech could be hit because a government that allows you to speak against a nation or company could then be taken to court for allowing a negative impact on future profits.
Anyone fancy going into court with one of the large suppliers or corporations when your own government has already called you guilty.
What happens is that free choice vanishes. That nice local manufacturer that pays its staff well and has an environmentally policy which you agree with, but they cost a bit more than the stuff from the big company. That bigger, cheaper company that treats it staff badly or that you have spoken against, they can take you to court for NOT buying their goods and affecting their profit. A hard case to fight since the UK government has already found you guilty of boycotting the big company because you:
A. Spoke against their policies.
B. Didn’t buy their stuff.
But this is silly you say, it would never happen. Corporations would never use a super secret trade deal and a government policy to criminalise ethical purchasing policies to bully and threaten hospitals, charities and government funded organisations into buying their goods OR silencing them.
If you buy Oranges AND speak against Israeli policies what do you do, stop speaking against those policies so you can no longer be accused of a boycott, or do you keep talking but buy Israeli oranges to avoid being taken to court.
This has a massive potential for abuse, but we can trust our elected leaders to make sure that doesn’t happen.