Book summary: 'Land grabbing' and international investment law: towards a global reconfiguration of property?

27 February 2017

IIED's Lorenzo Cotula writes about property rights and international investment for the Yearbook on International Investment Law and Policy 2014-2015.

Cover: Yearbook on International Investment Law & Policy 2014-2015

Yearbook on International Investment Law & Policy 2014-2015

Andrea K. Bjorklund (ed.)
Oxford University Press, November 2016 – Book, 664 pages
Yearbook on International Investment Law & Policy 2014-2015

Each year the Yearbook on International Investment Law and Policy provides a rigorous analysis of key trends in international investment law. The yearbook features contributions from leading experts in the field and is used by practitioners, researchers, academics and policymakers.

In the 2014-15 edition, Lorenzo Cotula, principal researcher in law and sustainable development in IIED's Natural Resources research group, has contributed a chapter about the changing role of property rights and the importance of protecting the land rights of rural people.

Cotula discusses the growing demand for natural resources – especially land – and how this demand is prompting large-scale agribusiness investments in low- and middle-income countries. As a result of these investments, lands previously used for common grazing and foraging are increasingly being claimed under exclusive rights. 

This process is being accompanied by changes to concepts of land tenure, property law and legislation on investment, as well as an increasing body of international investment arbitration.

In each of these areas, Cotula argues, changes to property relations are fundamentally redefining who controls natural resources. As commercial pressures increase, this evolving legal architecture exposes some of the world's poorest to the risk of dispossession. 

Cotula analyses the changing balance between national and international regulation in governing property. While national law continues to play a central role, large numbers of trans-boundary investment treaties and investor-state arbitrations are having an increasing impact. 

In an interview about his analysis, Cotula says that investors are able to use the framework of investment treaties and the threat of legal action to dissuade governments from acting on behalf of indigenous people and land rights activists. 

Cotula says finding an equitable way forward that takes into account the livelihoods of rural people in developing countries requires going beyond the idea that natural resource investments involve only a bilateral relationship between an investor and a government. A wider, more holistic, view should consider more fully the rights that third parties may have to the land and resources at stake. 

Cotula leads IIED's legal tools for citizen empowerment programme, which aims to strengthen local land rights and help rural people improve accountability in investment processes. 


'Land grabbing' and international investment law: towards a global reconfiguration of property? (free to read), in the Yearbook on International Investment Law & Policy 2014-2015, edited by Andrea K. Bjorklund (2016), available to purchase from Oxford University Press, 664 pages, hardback (ISBN: 978-0-19-061205-4)/eBook

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