In a monthly interview series, the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative turns the spotlights on one of their PhD candidates. We learn more about their research projects, their link with inclusive prosperity and their long term goals. This edition features Stephanie Triefus who studies participatory rights and international investment law.
What is your research about?
My research is about participatory rights and international investment law. International investment law is a transnational legal structure that is being increasingly criticised as contributing to prosperity only for the privileged few. As a system that was designed to protect Western corporate interests from emerging democratic movements and alternative ways of ordering international legal relations, inclusivity is not a core value of the international investment law regime. International investment law is also gaining increasing notoriety as a potential barrier to addressing climate change, as fossil fuel companies have begun to challenge state decision-making regarding the phasing out of carbon-intensive energy sources.
My PhD project explores these themes, examining whether and how the human right to participate in public affairs is facilitated or marginalised in and by international investment law. The aim of my project is two-fold: Firstly, I explore the ways that international investment law interacts with the participation of those affected by investment projects and the wider public. Secondly, I consider whether international investment law as part of the current international economic regime is capable of meaningfully taking participatory interventions into account given its asymmetric valuing of corporate interests and neo-colonial roots.
How are you progressing so far and what are your main findings?
I am in the third year of my PhD, and having drafted the introductory and doctrinal chapters of my dissertation, I am currently in the process of conducting field work for a case study on the Gabriel Resources v Romania arbitration. This case concerns a Canadian company that invested in an open-cut gold mine project in Transylvania. Over a period of 20 years, there was significant public protest about the mine project from both the local community and the wider Romanian population, culminating in the largest public protests in Romania since the Revolution.
The protesters were concerned about the impacts on the community, the environment and cultural heritage dating back to 106AD. Following the protests, a law that would have enabled the project failed to be passed through the Romanian parliament, and the project ground to a halt. The company is now suing Romania for over €4 billion, alleging that Romania expropriated its investment, did not treat the investment fairly and equitably and did not afford it full protection and security, in breach of the investment treaty between Romania and Canada.
I have started conducting interviews with members of the local community who still live in Rosia Montana, as well as people who have been involved with the case through the amicus curiae brief submitted by a coalition of NGOs. I also hope to interview representatives of the company, and government officials. With my interviews I am interested in finding out whether and how the local community have been able to participate in decision-making concerning the mine, and how they perceive their (lack of) participation in the arbitration, which is ongoing. Through the conversations I have had so far, it is evident that the case is very complex, with multiple competing perspectives and interests.
In what way is your research project contributing to inclusive prosperity?
My research speaks to the DoIP theme of Sustainability and Ecological Inclusion, particularly the focal points of public participation, how public and private actors interact, and the concept of sustainable prosperity for all. Participatory rights are fundamental to the inclusion of the powerless in society. International investment law raises dilemmas about the public/private, as public interest matters such as the environment, climate change, land use and health are dealt with in private arbitration with very limited opportunities for public participation. By shifting focus towards the impact of investment law and conducting empirical research on the lived experiences of affected communities, I hope to shed light on how such communities can use the system instead of being abused by it, increasing opportunities for prosperity for all.
What is the added value in doing your PhD at the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative?
Doing a PhD can be isolating, as you are working virtually alone on a project for a long period of time. Being part of DoIP makes me feel like I’m part something bigger, of a group of smart people working towards the common goal of tackling inequality. As someone with a pure law background, it is also beneficial to be learning from people from other disciplines, who see problems from a different angle to what I’m used to. I’m looking forward to getting their feedback and perspectives on my research when I present it to the Initiative.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I would like to continue learning and teaching in the business and human rights space, because businesses have such enormous potential both for positive and negative impacts on society.