DAVOS (SWITZERLAND) – One day before the start of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) here, Friends of the Earth International branded the gathering of senior executives and their invited guests as a means for big business to protect its interests at the expense of people and the environment.

The world’s leading grassroots environmental group said that the WEF [1] posed a threat to democracy by hosting discussions vital to the whole world behind closed doors.

The secrecy of the WEF’s annual meeting was confirmed on January 19th when 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.

Tony Juniper accused the business-centred organization of hiding behind a screen of philanthropy while fixing access to new markets and greater profits for big business, regardless of the impacts on natural resources and the world’s poor.

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.

More than 2,000 representatives from the top 1000 global companies along with state leaders are invited to the meeting, which this year embraces a theme of “security and prosperity”. But only select participants will address the issue of global trade, following the collapse of World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun (Mexico) last year and will meet on january 23 to try to re-start trade talks.

“When business leaders claim to be acting in the interests of security and prosperity, they mean security to protect the prosperity of the multinational companies who rule the world rather than the greater peace and security of the world,” said Friends of the Earth International Vice Chair Tony Juniper.

“CEOs still claim that what is good for large corporations is good for society – but world leaders should face up to the fact that this is not the case,” added Nur Hidayati of Friends of the Earth Indonesia.

On January 15, a report from the World Economic Forum’s own Global Governance Initiative revealed the extent to which big business is failing to protect the planet’s natural resources or meet the needs of the world’s poor. The report [2] found that the international community scored no more than four out of ten for its effort and co-operation in achieving the United Nation Millennium Goals – achieving just 3/10 in the areas of the environment, human rights and peace and security.

A report from Friends of the Earth International [3] 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.

“It is time big business was held to account. The World Economic Forum is keen to show that it is acting for the greater good, but even their own reports expose the reality. We need global regulations to ensure that companies do not put profit above the needs of the environment and local communities,” added Tony Juniper.


Tony Juniper +44-(0) 7712 843 207 (mobile)
Nur Hidayati and Miriam Behrens +41 79 2160206 (mobile)
Craig Bennett +44-(0)7720147280 (mobile)


[1] The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting takes place in Davos from 21st – 25th January 2004. See www.weforum.org.

[2] See www.weform.org/globalgovernance

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