“The Public Eye on Davos” – counterpoint to the WEF with a critical eye on globalization

Zurich/Basel, 07.01.2004 - (embargoed until January 7, 12.00 a.m.) The fifth independent conference «The Public Eye on Davos» will be held from January 21 to 23, 2004, in Davos — set, once again, to coincide with the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. The conference will be opened January 21 by Mary Robinson, former UN-High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Organizers of the conference are the Berne Declaration, Pro Natura, and other NGOs from every continent. They are calling for legally binding rules for corporations instead of noncommittal partnership initiatives between governments and industry as promoted by the WEF.

The main theme of this year’s «Public Eye» conference is corporate accountability. While industry representatives at the WEF hail voluntary initiatives such as the UN Global Compact as a guarantee for responsible corporate business practices, NGOs call such nonbinding agreements insufficient. «Corporations that have signed the Global Compact cannot be held accountable for violating the agreement’s social or ecological provisions because there are no monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms», says Matthias Herfeldt of the Berne Declaration. «Voluntary initiatives such as the Global Compact are not sufficient for an effective protection of the environment; they must be complemented by binding rules» insists Miriam Behrens of Pro Natura. «With its draft for a UN-convention on corporate accountability, Friends of the Earth has submitted a viable proposal». Among other things, corporate accountability manifests itself in working conditions that respect human dignity. Yet such conditions are hardly assured in developing countries, e.g. in the textile industry. «Compliance with working standards may also lead to gains in productivity and provide a competitive edge. One way of achieving this goal is through independent monitoring systems», says Stephan Indermühle of the Berne Declaration.

Besides panel discussions on issues of corporate accountability the conference program includes, for the first time, special workshops for students and with «Davos. An expedition into the mountains» by the 400asa -theatre group a dramatic interpretation of critical viewpoints on globalization. The goal of «Public Eye on Davos» is to provide a critical commentary on the activities of the WEF and its corporate members. «Mind you, the WEF is not a neutral platform where equitable solutions to global problems are developed in a spirit of partnership, as this year’s WEF-slogan «Partnership for Security and Prosperity» suggests”, notes Matthias Herfeldt of the Berne Declaration. «Moreover, the participating NGOs would like to create an alternative public space in Davos where socially and environmentally sustainable alternatives to the neoliberal globalization agenda are developed», says Miriam Behrens of Pro Natura.