As the World Economic Forum kicks off its global summit in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday, critics of the annual gathering are eager to show that the well-polished public image of the event should not be allowed to eclipse the nefarious and destructive role played by the many corporate elites that sponsor it.
Even amid seemingly thoughtful discussions about climate change, economic inequality, water scarcity and other key global issues, what's important to remember, says Alex Jensen, an expert on globalization and development at the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), is that a critical look at any of these crises shows "the complicity of the very corporations that the WEF represents."
Beyond its glossy "veneer," Jensen says, the Davos summit acts as a stage "for multinational corporations, among them human rights abusers, political racketeers, property thieves and international environmental criminals."
According to Jensen, looking at Davos' corporate sponsors this year—which include Nestle, Shell, Wal-Mart, Syngenta, and Goldman Sachs—is like looking at a 'Who's Who' list of corporate criminals. He writes:
The corporations represented by the World Economic Forum are the agents principally responsible for destroying the planet, ravaging livelihoods, and literally starving people, all while aggrandizing unprecedented profits into the hands of an ever-tinier super elite. Seen in this light, all the burnished social and environmental concern-speak of the WEF is so much vacuous corporate swagger, the crudest sort of greenwash. Even though these companies actually spend huge amounts of capital and energy fighting environmental regulation and the citizen’s groups who are suffering their abuses, they simultaneously pursue a strategic embrace of environmental discourse and narratives; they accept the existence of the problems while promoting privatized, technocratic strategies for addressing them. These strategies pivot between those that assign responsibility for causing and fixing the problems to individual consumers, and those that position the corporations themselves as crucial players in the common cause of “improving”/”cleaning” the environment – the same one, incidentally, that they destroyed.
Ahead of this year's summit, the international aid agency Oxfam International released a report slamming "the winner take all" approach now endemic to global capitalism. According to the report, the wealthy elites exemplified by attendees at Davos have "co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population."
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On Tuesday, Pope Francis followed up on his previous critiques of global capitalism by telling the economic and political elite in Davos that "humanity" should be "served by wealth, not ruled by it."
"The growth of equality demands something more than economic growth, even though it presupposes it. It demands first of all 'a transcendent vision of the person',” Francis continued.
“It also calls for decisions, mechanisms and processes directed to a better distribution of wealth, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.”
For critics like Jensen, however, such plaintive lectures to the elite gathered in Davos mistake the larger issue.
The mission of Davos and its participants is clear, he says: To "advance the power, growth, and wealth of the corporate rulers of the world."
It should not be coddled or applauded, says Jensen, but "fiercely resisted."