DAVOS, SWITZERLAND – Business leaders, politicians and the rich converge on the Swiss ski resort of Davos next week (23 January) for the World Economic Forum (WEF) – the annual gathering of the powerful which plays an important role in discussions of world economic and social policy.

But the meeting takes place amidst growing criticism of corporate greenwash. Despite a high profile pledge made a year ago at the WEF in New York, WEF corporations have already demonstrated their unwillingness to embrace sustainability if it gets in the way of more profits. Friends of the Earth is highlighting cases of bad practices in the year since WEF 2002 [1].

The international environmental network will call on world leaders attending the WEF to act to establish rules for big business and rights for citizens affected by bad business practice, rather than accept more greenwash promises. Friends of the Earth and a coalition of organisations is holding a counter-conference called the Public Eye on Davos, which will cast a critical eye on the WEF agenda [2].

Last year the WEF moved abruptly to New York – reportedly because of security concerns in the Alpine location. The Swiss government has attracted the Forum back to Davos, but security is expected to be intense. In previous years, attendees have been enclosed in a ring of steel, with all access to Davos cut off. This year for the first time in Swiss history airspace is to be closed over Davos during the WEF and the Swiss military will be there in force. But following criticism of the unsubtle clampdown on protests in 2001, there is a permitted public protest expected on Saturday 25th January.

Friends of the Earth will be seeking out politicians at the WEF to ask them for new international commitments on rights for citizens and communities to protect them from bad practices.

The invited “community of top decision makers² – including senior business leaders from corporations such as Nestle; Shell, Vivendi Universal, British American Tobacco, BP, Nike and Tyumen Oil (involved in the Prestige disaster) – will benefit from “a unique club atmosphere² [3] to talk to world leaders about the way forward for the world.

Previous WEF meetings have paved the way for the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – both of which have been severely criticised for contributing to global inequality through their damaging impacts on poor communities.

While the WEF guests hold private discussions, representatives from non-governmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth International, and representatives from developing and developed countries will present an alternative vision in a public forum, just a few blocks away. The Public Eye on Davos International Conference takes place from Thursday 23rd January until Monday 27th January – with all sessions open to the public and the press. The WEF, which is funded by contributions from the world’s foremost 1000 companies, used its 2002 appearance in New York to exploit the memory of the September 11 tragedy while promoting its usual agenda: that the “alliance between the world’s largest trading partners today is more important than ever². It called for an end to political posturing and regulatory divergence, which stand as a barrier to free trade [4].

Friends of the Earth challenged the corporations at last year¹s Forum to support civil society calls for binding international rules on multinationals under the UN. The issue was a major feature of the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in August 2002. Friends of the Earth wrote to all the chief executives at the Forum and will reveal their responses during this year¹s event.

Tony Juniper, vice chair of Friends of the Earth International, said: “The World Economic Forum’s slogan this year is ŒBuilding Trust¹ yet many of its participants are chief executives of the companies responsible for the very worst ravages of corporate globalisation. It is a bitter irony that many people cannot swallow. How can Galician fisherfolk trust the corporations which participate in the WEF that have damaged their environment and livelihoods?

“If politicians at the World Economic Forum are serious about improving the state of the world, they should accept Friends of the Earth International’s challenge and support a global regime to curb corporate power, with guaranteed rights for citizens and communities, and protection for the environment where we all live. We will also ask politicians to call the bluff on corporate greenwash.²

Friends of the Earth International will have spokespeople available in Davos throughout the meeting.

Updates will also be available at www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/corporates/.