Vale Columbia Center Leaders Highlight Work in Sustainable Investment

New York, February 12, 2014—The Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment (VCC) is working globally to help governments and other stakeholders ensure that investments foster positive change and contribute to sustainable development, said VCC Director Lisa E. Sachs ’08 and colleagues at a Feb. 3 presentation, the latest in an ongoing faculty-student workshop on Lawyering For Change in a Changing World.
The VCC is a joint center of Columbia Law School and The Earth Institute at Columbia University that analyzes and formulates policies for sustainable international investment. Sachs outlined the center’s mission to develop practical approaches and solutions to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of international investment for sustainable development.

“Our challenge is to understand a highly complex legal framework and use the law to help make it mutually beneficial for investors, governments, and constituent stakeholder communities,” Sachs said. “We are an applied research center; our research informs our advisory work, and vice versa.”

Sachs introduced two of her colleagues, Lise Johnson ’09 LL.M and Kaitlin Y. Cordes ’08, both graduates of the Law School, who lead the VCC’s work analyzing treaty-based investor-state arbitrations and agriculture and land investments, respectively.

“We create tools for communities and advocates to understand investments and legal frameworks,” Cordes said.

That work requires ensuring greater transparency of contracts between investors and states, and developing and disseminating information and analysis on just what those contracts mean for affected communities. The VCC has been working with the World Bank Institute and Revenue Watch Institute to develop a database of publicly available contracts with annotations of key provisions to help stakeholders understand the terms of the contracts.

In another effort to increase stakeholders’ abilities to engage with the legal and policy frameworks that govern international investment, Johnson recently collaborated with a dozen experts on mining to write a comprehensive guide to understanding mining contracts for lay readers.

Following introductions, the speakers and other VCC staff divided into breakout sessions for in-depth conversations with students interested in pursuing similar issues.

The talk was part of the Lawyering for Change in a Changing World series, organized by professors Susan Sturm, the George M. Jaffin Professor of Law and Social Responsibility; Suzanne B. Goldberg, the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law; and Olatunde Johnson. Held in collaboration with Social Justice Initiatives, the series convenes Columbia Law School students and leading practitioners in fields ranging from voting rights to criminal justice to gender and sexuality law.