DAVOS (SWITZERLAND) – Tony Juniper, Director of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland today issued the following statement:
Following the events and experience of the past six days I have decided not to attend any further annual meetings of the World Economic Forum.
The decision to attend this year was not taken lightly. Many people in our movement see the Forum as an elitist and illegitimate gathering that first and foremost advances the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of the environment and the least well off. In coming to Davos, I intended to challenge the thinking and ideas of some of the world?s most powerful people about the need for urgent change.
I found, however, that many WEF participants were unwilling to properly consider new ideas or to engage in a truly participative way. Many WEF members appear unable to embrace a new way and seek only to cling to outdated and unsustainable ideas based on an obsession with unending and unsustainable economic growth and with securing ever increasing financial returns for the already rich. In other words I found that many of the concerns of my colleagues were indeed true.
It seems that the bottom line for the WEF really is all about the bottom line. Long term protection of the world environment and delivering global justice are at best secondary considerations.
Only four months ago at the Johannesburg Earth Summit, many of the corporations present in Davos repeated promises they made at Rio in 1992. They said they would implement a sustainable development agenda and that they could do this without new regulations to promote corporate accountability. There was little evidence in Davos that such a shift is occurring. Ecosystem damage, climate change and the exploitation of poorer countries continues apace often driven by the interests of the global corporations. And while the global corporations demand regulations to grant them ever freer market access, there is resistance to the implementation of official measures to promote accountability and sustainability. At last year’s annual meeting, some of the world’s largest corporations set themselves the aim of embracing environmental and social goals, yet many of these firms have since then been involved in environmentally and socially regressive business practices. Nestlé’s decision to seek repayment of a 6 million dollar loan from famine-struck Ethiopia, WestLB’s involvement with a pipeline through primary tropical forest in Ecuador, the Alfa Group’s association with the Gallician oil spill caused by the use of an ageing tanker and BP’s aggressive opening of new fossil fuel supplies while accepting the reality of climate change are all examples that give us cause to doubt the likely effectiveness of voluntary commitments towards diminishing the negative impacts of business on the world.
I have also been struck by how the notion of “dialogue” is, for many of the WEF member companies, very much a one-way process. There is every impression that the global corporations are only interested in “dialogue” when they set the rules of engagement and the agenda to be discussed. Yes, I was invited to attend the WEF and chose to use it as an opportunity to seek change, but “attempts by campaigners to persuade corporate executives to give an account of their actions at the Public Eye on Davos fell on deaf ears ” they declined an invitation to attend. If there is any dialogue here in Davos, it is principally between the heads of powerful companies and a selection of invited government ministers.
The restrictive nature of information dissemination and the lack of transparency in the WEF is a source of serious concern. If dissenting voices are suppressed through restricting freedom of information, how can they be heard and what impact can they have? In this regard, there is little opportunity to influence the real agenda of the WEF. For example, what was the outcome of secret discussions between Government Ministers and senior executives of huge oil corporations. On the eve of possible war, we know that oil is a key geopolitical issue. What was discussed, what was decided and how will the decisions affect the public?
Finally, as a result of a complaint I made to the WEF last Friday about how I was detained without warning by security police, the organizers chose to issue a defamatory press statement containing falsehoods and inaccuracies that are likely to damage my reputation and that of Friends of the Earth. The refusal of the WEF to retract and apologize for these remarks by 9.00am this morning despite our having provided them with ample opportunity and reason to do so, leaves us no alternative but to consider ourselves fully justified in commencing legal proceedings.
Certainly we have, in recent years, helped to change the agenda of the WEF and how it relates to society. But the Berne Declaration, Friends of the Earth and others have done this principally through pressure from the outside, not by being so much decoration on the inside. We have yet to change the real business of the Forum and what its members ultimately stand for, or the unaccountable and non-transparent manner in which it operates. Considering the awesome economic and political influence wielded by the WEF participants, it cannot be in the interests of society for it to continue to operate in its present form.
My belief now, having participated in the last two annual meetings, is that such changes to an institution like the WEF can only be brought about through participatory grassroots action on the outside rather than by seeking to convince a mainly arrogant all-powerful elite from the inside where they control information and conduct discussions of importance to everyone in secret
Tony Juniper, Tuesday 28th January, 2003.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Tony Juniper: + 44 7712843207
Craig Bennett +44 7810558250
Miriam Behrens Pro Natura – Friends of the Earth Switzerland mobile: +41 (0)79 216’02’06