In many parts of the world, large-scale projects such as agribusiness plantations, mines and infrastructure are compounding the policy imperative to protect the rights of socially, politically and juridically marginalised people – including small-scale farmers, forest dwellers, pastoralists, artisanal fishers and people living in informal settlements. Effective responses often require not just securing certain precarious rights, but also addressing imbalances between the rights and obligations of different groups: forest clearances for soy, oil palm and rubber plantations have questioned whether even the more encompassing rights should allow businesses to take Earth to the brink of environmental catastrophe; and many conflicts engage businesses’ obligations to the people directly affected and the wider local society.
At root, these issues interrogate the foundations of property, cutting across diverse legal regimes that, while often considered in isolation, shape rights, limitations and obligations – from constitutional property clauses and national legislation to international treaties protecting human rights, the environment or foreign investment. Such legal regimes have become arenas for renegotiating rights and obligations in the light of evolving social and environmental considerations. This paper reflects on the shifting conceptions of property, focusing on selected constitutional developments and trends in international investment law.
Lorenzo Cotula leads research, policy engagement and field-level projects on the legal arenas where natural resource governance meets the global economy – cutting across land and natural resource law and governance; international investment law; law and transnational value chains; human rights law, including business and human rights; political economy of natural resources and foreign investment; and legal empowerment, citizen agency and public accountability.
He has a Postgraduate certificate in Sustainable Business, University of Cambridge; PhD in Law, University of Edinburgh; MSc in Development Studies (Distinction), London School of Economics and a Degree in Law (cum laude), University "La Sapienza" of Rome.