World Social Forum and World Economic Forum - A Bridge Too Far?

'Corporate actors have a moral responsibility, in our view, to conduct their business in such a way as to really minimixe environmental damage, especially in view of climate change'

GENEVA - A group of human rights organisations will attempt to bridge the gap between two antagonistic camps in January: the World Economic Forum which meets in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, and the World Social Forum, generally held in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.

The plan is for a delegation of human rights figures and leading experts in the field to physically bring a message on human rights accountability by train from Geneva, the international human rights headquarters, to the World Economic Forum at Davos.

During the journey and on arrival at Davos, the delegation will issue a message about responsibility for human rights in their widest sense, which includes the duty to be accountable for respecting those rights, one of the organisers, Peter Prove of the Lutheran World Federation, told IPS.

"Accountability is an issue that has to be pressed on both state and non-state actors, and we know very well that many non-state actors in the corporate sector are extremely influential, in terms of their effects on the lives and livelihood of communities and individuals all around the world, with direct and indirect impacts on human rights," he said.

The Human Dignity and Human Rights Caucus (HDHRC), a group of NGOs that got together in the context of the WSF and which is organising the initiative, insists that states must be held accountable for their obligations to respect and protect human rights, and enforce related legislation and standards.

Some 80 NGOs belong to the Caucus, including the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), the Netherlands-based Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation (ICCO) and Equalinrights, the German churches' organisation Bread for the World, the Habitat International Coalition which has agencies in 80 countries, and the Lutheran World Federation.

"There has been a long-felt need for dialogue between the social expressions that meet in the World Social Forum (WSF) and the actors that meet in the World Economic Forum (WEF). But an effective dialogue hasn't yet been established between these two major global gatherings," said Prove.

"Our initiative is in part an attempt to build a bridge between the WSF and the WEF, a human rights bridge, by means of this train," which will depart from Geneva on Jan. 22, the day before the opening of the Davos forum, he said.

The WSF is a mass assembly of NGOs, academics and activists whose theme is "Another World is Possible." Its first meeting was held in Porto Alegre in 2001. In recent years it has met in different countries, or has held multiple meetings in different cities in the same year.

In 2008 the WSF itself will not meet, but instead will hold a worldwide day of protest on Jan. 26.

The WEF, on the other hand, has met annually at Davos in the last week of January since 1971, drawing the world's political and economic movers and shakers, including top business leaders, presidents and prime ministers, as well as selected intellectuals and journalists, to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

"Human rights principles, from our point of view, are a very important element of any corporate social responsibility agenda," said Prove, explaining the goal of the HDHRC mission to Davos. The HDHRC has chosen to focus in Davos on the issue of human rights and the environment, and accountability in those areas.

"Corporate actors have a moral responsibility, in our view, to conduct their business in such a way as to really minimixe environmental damage, especially in view of climate change," said Prove.

"They are also legally accountable under human rights laws and customary international law, which are binding," he said.

The HDHRC is aware that next year, although there will not be a WSF as such, the international community will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will also be on the WEF agenda at Davos.

Prove announced the HDHRC action to enter into dialogue with the WEF on Wednesday, at the inauguration of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO), which is sessioning in Geneva until Friday.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.