CIDS project on ISDS reform
Project lead:
Professeur Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler and Dr Michele Potestà

This CIDS project on ISDS reform has developed against the background of the criticism that has emerged over the last years towards investor-State arbitration. States and other stakeholders have begun to reflect about both the achievements and shortcomings of the existing ISDS system, reacting in different ways to its perceived limitations. Against this backdrop, a move for reform has developed over the past years, which currently has the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) as the focal point of discussions.

The CIDS project seeks to provide fact-based study of the concerns over the ISDS system as well as contribute analysis and ideas for concrete reform proposals going forward. While the options for the reform of the ISDS regime are multiple and are ultimately for policy-makers (i.e., States) to make, the CIDS aims to accompany the ongoing discussions between stakeholders which are likely to touch on systemic and other complex issues of investment law, treaty law, and international dispute settlement.

With those objectives in mind, the CIDS has contributed two research papers to UNCITRAL and organized or co-organized a series of seminars or workshops. It has also facilitated the creation of an Academic Forum on ISDS, which comprises a number of leading academic experts in the ISDS field. 

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From Situated Knowledge Production to Socio-Economic Effects: A Meta-Analysis of the Investment Arbitration Regime
Project lead: Professor Thomas Schultz and Dr Niccolò Ridi, Lecturer (University of Liverpool & King’s College London)

Does research about investment arbitration change investment arbitration? Who controls the knowledge about and the realities of this institution?

This project first aims at an understanding of the structures of knowledge production about investment arbitration. Based on the idea that our interests and aesthetic prefigurations shape our epistemology, and that legal realities are social constructs, it seeks to canvass the interests and other aesthetic prefigurations of the individuals and institutions producing this knowledge. Put differently, it asks what people who write about investment arbitration likely try to achieve with it, given who they are and what they otherwise do. The project then moves on to examine how this knowledge shapes the institution and our representation of it, how it actually works and the understanding we have of how it works. On this tack, it conducts a meta-analysis of empirical studies about the socio-economic effects of investment arbitration, and analyses how the findings of these studies could and do feed back into the understanding of this institution, how they clash with the key knowledge producers’ interests and aesthetic prefigurations, and how they lead to mensurable change.

Related publications: 


Critical Arbitration
Project lead: Professor Thomas Schultz and Clément Bachmann

Arbitration is not only a dispute resolution mechanism. It is also an institution that creates a certain social order. What kind of social order?

This project seeks to apply to arbitration the basics findings and methodological moves of the Critical Legal Studies movement and more precisely its idea that law, generally, maintains a given power structure and through it a given social order. The project seeks to understand the mechanics of the creation or perpetuation of a social order through arbitration and the contents of that order – the social inequalities it increases and decreases, the values it fosters and neglects, the norms it spreads and shuts down, the status groups it elevates and sidelines; its ethos, its layout, and its dynamics. It takes a critical look at arbitration, from this perspective. But it doesn’t proceed from an aesthetic prefiguration that is critical of arbitration.

Related publications:


The Vulnerability of International Courts and Tribunals
Project lead: Professor Laurence Boisson de Chazournes

International courts and tribunals are under assault. They face serious, and mounting, hostility from a variety of state and non-state actors. The places of international adjudication, an essential facet of international law, are again no longer safe. How vulnerable are international courts and tribunals really? What can be done about it? What are likely scenarios for the future?


Legal Feminism and International Dispute Settlement
Project lead: Professor Thomas Schultz and Clément Bachmann

If we understand international dispute settlement as gender-prioritized and patriarchal field, what do we learn about its workings, values, and fitness for society?

Starting from the simple observation that there are very few women in arbitration and international courts and tribunals, this project seeks to understand the consequences of this fact on the field of international dispute resolution, and through it on the areas of society that it touches.


Dealing with Data Disputes
Project lead: Professor Thomas Schultz

We live in a digital, data-driven economy, which has huge potential for growth and innovation. The growing digital trade is increasingly intermediated by online platforms: e-commerce marketplaces, application stores, social media and online advertising platforms. The online intermediation services of these platforms are used by millions of businesses all over the world. Disputes are unavoidable, and numerous. Similarly, electronic data is at the centre of modern, innovative economic systems and societies. Naturally then, in a data- driven economy, disputes about access to and transfer of data are likely to increase exponentially in the future.

Even though there are several redress mechanisms available to users facing such disputes, their effectiveness in solving specific problems is largely and seriously wanting. Internal complaint mechanisms are typically unsatisfactory because of the vagueness of responses or even lack of responses, leading to lengthy procedures and leaving issues unresolved. There is also a lack of effective and neutral external out-of-court dispute settlement alternatives. In addition, addition, online platforms often impose exclusive choice-of-court agreements on users, which effectively disable access to justice for all but the largest users.

There is, in other words, a “digital justice gap” between the extent and relevance of the activities carried out by these platforms and the lack of effective redress for the millions of business users having recourse to these services. It is further reasonable to assume, in the absence of extensive studies on the matter, that a similar digital justice gap exists in the field of data portability disputes

This project’s objective is to investigate the precise particulars of the disputes in the project’s scope, to propose a conceptual framework for a comprehensive and uniform dispute resolution system providing efficiency, effective redress and procedural fairness, and to test-drive this proposed framework.


The Domain of International Adjudication: Why Sovereign States Abandon Decision Control?
Project lead: Professor Fuad Zarbiyev, Associate Professor, International Law, Co-Director, LL.M. in International Law

Why do states voluntarily commit to international adjudicatory mechanisms and actually submit their disputes to them, given their traditional misgivings about the figure of the international judge?

This project aims to study the reasons explaining the jurisdictional commitments of States and their recourse to international courts and tribunals. States are often said to be reluctant to consent to the jurisdiction of international courts and tribunals and let the latter adjudicate their disputes, for instance because of a lack of predictability of court decisions and structural ambiguities of the applicable rules. These reasons, however, are particular manifestations of a more general phenomenon: the desire of all governments to keep control over the decisions that affect them.

Yet states do make judicial commitments and voluntarily submit disputes in which they are involved to international courts and tribunals. What are the reasons that bring states to abandon decision control?

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