Davos Forum wraps up, world leaders assess gain

The 2003 World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded six days of business on 28 February in Davos, Switzerland, launching global initiatives on health and good governance.

Beyond the hype, and against the backdrop of the pending war with Iraq, the six-day annual meeting of the 33rd World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has produced valuable insights into how the most influential corporate executives and political leaders would attempt to rebuild trust in business. The official theme of the conference was the crisis in trust created by fraud scandals at Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc. and a host of other companies, though it was overshadowed by the potential war in Iraq, fears about terrorism, and the global business community’s increasing mistrust of Washington’s policies. Another key programme of the Forum was the Global Health Initiative (GHI), launched at the WEF Annual Meeting 2001, also in Davos (seeEURACTIV 27 January 2003).

Among the Forum’s highlights:

  • US Secretary of State Colin Powell told participants that “what we can do as one nation is nothing compared to what we can do if we can all unite.”
  • A survey of CEOs from 16 countries and 18 industry sectors found that companies are doing more to make ethical behaviour an integrated part of their business practices. In particular, the survey found that many companies have established board-level committees to ensure that companies take their corporate citizenship activities more seriously.
  • Bill Gates announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will make a 200 million dollar grant to establish the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, a partnership with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Initiative will identify critical scientific challenges in global health and increase research on diseases that cause millions of deaths in the developing world.
  • The US-based Pharmacia Corporation announced it would grant non-exclusive licenses for delavirdine, a medicine for HIV/AIDS, to generic drug makers that agree to manufacture and supply the product to the world’s poorest countries (see alsoEURACTIV 27 January 2003)
  • The Forum announced that it is setting up a monitoring group that will evaluate the progress individual countries are making in the effort to meet the goals set forth in the 2003 Millennium Declaration. The programme, known as the Global Governance Initiative, will be managed by a steering committee of prominent business leaders and social activists. It will publish a report at the next World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

 

Despite the recent series of corporate scandals, trust in US business has been on the rise during the past six months, while a reverse trend characterised Europeans' trust in business, according toEdelman's fourth semi-annual Trust Surveyof opinion leaders. Forty-eight per cent of US opinion leaders expressed trust in business, up from 41 per cent in June 2002. Meanwhile, Europeans' trust in business has dropped from 43 per cent in June 2002 to 35 per cent today. The opinion leaders' trust in the US government fell dramatically, from 48 per cent in January 2002 to 39 per cent today. The respective figure for the respondents' confidence in the European governments is 25 per cent today. According to the report, NGOs are now the most trusted inst itution in Europe, with a confidence rate of 45 per cent. "NGOs are now firmly established as the Fifth Estate in global governance, rivaling the credibility of revered corporate brands and filling a trust vacuum in both the US and Europe", said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman.

TheInternational Right to Know coalition, which brings together AFL-CIO, Amnesty International USA, EarthRights International, Friends of the Earth-US, Global Exchange, Oxfam America, Sierra Club, and the Working Group on Community Right to Know, has issued a joint report arguing that American businesses should demonstrate their leadership and commitment to building trust by disclosing the same kind of information for their operations abroad that is required in the United States. "Restoring trust in corporate America means US companies must not only provide accurate financial information, they must also disclose information concerning their environmental, labor and human rights practices", the report said.

 

By adopting the theme of trust, Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder, hoped to find a remedy for the pessimism and decline that continues to grip the world economy. For six days, 2,311 people – including 24 heads of state, 82 cabinet ministers, 67 heads of international organisations, 13 labour leaders, 74 heads of non-governmental organisations, 177 academics, 1,300 business leaders and 282 media leaders – held more than 270 discussion sessions.

 

The world's top business leaders will attempt to advance their agenda for more growth and competition at the next scheduled ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Cancun, Mexico, in September. Meanwhile, the World Social Forum, which concluded its events in Porto Alegre, Brazil, with a proposal to create a hemispheric free trade zone that would stretch from Canada to Argentina, decided to stage its next annual gathering in India.

 

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