DAVOS (SWITZERLAND) – One day before the end of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) here, Friends of the Earth International revealed that at least one more shadowy meeting took place, confirming the pattern of secrecy of this gathering dominated by senior business executives.

The world’s leading grassroots environmental group announced today that the WEF [1] hosted a meeting of the so-called Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) on January 22, a business-led process that provides input to governments of the European Union and the United States [2], the world two largest trading blocs.

Friends of the Earth formally asked several times for any information on the agenda and the participants list for this meeting but nothing was disclosed by the office of Niall FitzGerald, Chief Executive of Unilever PLC who since December has held one of the two TABD chairs (the other is held by the Coca-Cola Company).

According to Corporate Europe Observatory, conferences are attended by high-level delegations from the European Commission and the US government. Due to the far-reaching, high-level political support it enjoys, the industry body routinely succeeds in weakening or postponing new consumer and environment protection measures on both sides of the Atlantic. The TABD also maintains significant influence over EU and US policies within the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Despite the fact that the TABD is a private sector group with no official status in the EU treaties, the Commission refers to its involvement in the TABD events as “negotiations”.

Trade ministers of 18 select members of the WTO met here behind closed doors and in parallel to the WEF on January 23 to try to kick start international trade negotiations. The so-called ‘informal meeting’ was intended to revive trade talks collapsed in Cancun (Mexico) in September 2003. At the “Public Eye on Davos” [3], the alternative conference to the World Economic Forum annual meeting, environmental and development organisations explained the dangers of such meetings.

Civil society representatives reiterated their warning that no WTO agreement is still better than a wrong agreement, especially an agreement of the kind the richest trading blocs and the business lobbies behind them hope to reach. On January 19th Friends of the Earth International Vice Chair Tony Juniper requested a list of WEF participants and the detailed agenda they would address. The office of the WEF’s senior managing director, Jose Maria Figueres, said that the detailed agenda and people attending was confidential.

Craig Bennett of Friends of the Earth said:

“The World Economic Forum is hiding behind a screen of philanthropy, but in reality it is operating behind closed doors to make it even easier for big business to make massive profits at the expense of people and the environment.”

In an effort to diffuse criticism about its secrecy, the WEF started in 2003 its own ‘Open Forum’ that runs in parallel to its traditional closed-door meetings. Because the WEF and the ‘Open Forum’ are both called ‘Forum’, media reports and the public may confuse them.

A report from Friends of the Earth International released ahead of the WTO Cancun meeting showed that big business, rather than helping achieve the ideals set out in the Millennium goals, is damaging the environment and local communities. Friends of the Earth is demanding international rules to make big business accountable for its behaviour [4].


Friends of the Earth in Davos:
Frederic Thoma + +32 486 40 18 95 (mobile)
Craig Bennett +44-(0) 7720147280 (mobile)
Eve Mitchell +44-(0) 7831640152 (mobile)


[1] The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting this year hosted more than 2,000 representatives from the top 1000 global companies along with state leaders. It took place in Davos from 21st – 25th January 2004. See www.weforum.org for more information.

[2] Quote from the TABD

[3] The public Eye is a a counter-conference, open to the public, which explores alternative visions to the corporate driven agenda at the WEF. It is organised by Berne Declaration (coordination), Pro Natura (Friends of the Earth Switzerland), Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), Asociación Latinoamericana de Organizaciones de Promoción, Corporate Europe Observatory, Focus on the Global South, International South Group Network, Tebtebba Foundation, Women in Development Europe, World Development Movement.

[4] See https://www.foei.org/resources/publications/publications-by-year/2003/business-rules-pays-price