January 28, 2002 – Business leaders, politicians and the rich converge on New York City this week 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. Moved abruptly this year from Davos, Switzerland – reportedly because of concerns over security in the Alpine location – the conference will meet instead at the New York Waldorf Astoria to examine the appropriate theme of “Leadership in Fragile Times: A Vision for a Shared Future.”

Against a backdrop of corporate corruption – as the FBI pieces together the shredded accounts of collapsed US energy giant ENRON – business leaders and accountants will be meeting to discuss with politicians the way forward for the world.

Behind the closed doors of the Waldorf Astoria, the invited “community of top decision makers” – including senior business leaders from corporations such as AOL Time Warner; Royal Dutch/Shell, Vivendi Universal, British American Tobacco, Nestle, Nike and American Airlines – will benefit from “a unique club atmosphere” [1] to talk to world leaders about the way forward for the world.

While the World Economic Forum 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, organised jointly by NGOs, will be meeting from Thursday 31st January until Sunday 3rd February at the United Nations Church Center – with all sessions open to the public and the press.

At a separate meeting, government representatives from around the world will be attending a preparatory session for the United Nations Earth Summit (scheduled to take place in Johannesburg, later this year).

The WEF – funded by contributions from the world’s foremost 1000 companies – has stated that following the events of September 11th, the “alliance between the world’s largest trading partners today is more important than ever” [2]. It calls for an end to political posturing and regulatory divergence, which stand as a barrier to free trade.

Previous WEF meetings have been a major source of support for neoliberal economic policies, paving 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.

Friends of the Earth International will be calling on the corporate representatives attending the WEF to widen their horizons from profit-led development to embrace the wider issues of sustainability that affect the whole world.

Tony Juniper, Director Designate of Friends of the Earth, said: “The World Economic Forum’s slogan is ‘Committed to Improving the State of the World’ 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 exactly does the WEF claim to have improved the world for the people in the Niger delta, or the children working in Asian sweatshops – or indeed for the ex-Enron employees now looking for work?

“If participants at the World Economic Forum are serious about improving hte 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.”

The World Economic Forum meets in New York from 31st January until 4th February 2002. Friends of the Earth International will have spokespeople available in New York throughout the meeting. Updates will also be available at www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/corporates/

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[1] World Economic Forum on-line – www.weforum.org
[2] “Charting a new course for transatlantic relations” www.weforum.org