The imperial foundation of foreign direct investment: a study of the granting and evolution of concessions (1860-1900)

PhD Project

The accounts on granting concessions to corporations under the British and the French empires in the late 19th century sank into oblivion. The scarcity of contextualised research on concessions among the studies on the history of empires and international investment law resulted in a lack of identification of concessions as a tool of informal takeover by empires. The focus in the history of international investment law has mainly been on the Eurocentric foundation of the rules. Some scholars have brought to light the disconnection between the theory and the practice of formal occupation by empires. Using a contextualised account, they revealed a parallel between the acquisition of dominium and the treaty-based transfer of imperium identified in theory, thus completed the late 19th-century international law account of occupation. However, no attention has been given to understanding how these contracts helped shape the dynamics that characterised foreign direct investment under empires. In other words, an account of the history of international investment law from the lenses of the hunt for concessions during the informal takeover (1860-1880) and their evolution under colonial occupation (1881-1900) is lacking. This project aims to place the focus of the history of investment activities on the historical and legal singularity of concessions.

A case study of the British and French empires between 1860 and 1900 shows us that neither of the empires shied away from bargaining, recourse to diplomatic arrangements and illegal military interventions for the acquisition of concession contracts and establishment of concession monopolies in favour of their concessionaires. This dynamic of imperial intervention in favour of concessionaires for the purposes of informal economic takeover shaped investment activities in both empires. Hence, a legal-contextualised study of concessions reveals not only that the informal economic takeover was facilitated by the volatility or rather disinterest surrounding the understanding of concessions, but that it is also inherent to the legal structure of these international investment contracts.

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