CBI Chief Claims Davos Hijacked by NGOs


By Larry Elliott

January 31, 2005

The head of Britain's leading employers' organisation launched an outspoken attack last night on the "hijacking" of the World Economic Forum in Davos by NGOs which wanted business to apologise for itself. As the annual five-day event came to an end in Switzerland, Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, said he was "worried and frustrated" by the lack of celebration of risk takers and wealth creators.

The meeting this year was dominated by the issues of poverty reduction in Africa and climate change, with both the prime minister and the chancellor turning up to argue that more needed to be done to lift the world's poorest nations out of poverty. Sir Digby said he supported the attempts by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to make progress on debt relief, aid and trade a priority during Britain's G8 presidency, but he was unhappy about the mood of the meeting. "Too many of the sessions have been an excuse to beat up on business, to say that business must do better," he said. "The pendulum is swinging too far in favour of the NGOs. The World Economic Forum is caving in to them. Davos has been hijacked by those who want business to apologise for itself."

Business, Sir Digby said, was the only route to cleaner water, better healthcare, better education and better roads. "Have I heard that in Davos? Have I hell. We have heard how we are greedy and how we pollute, and how we have got to help Africa. But a celebration of business? No."

Sir Digby's criticisms were strongly rejected by the organisers of Davos. Mark Adams, the WEF's head of media, said: "Actually a lot of the things on the agenda were brought here by the current chair of the G8 (the prime minister) and by President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schrí¶der of Germany. If that's what world leaders are talking about, it is only right that we give them a platform." Mr Adams said that in terms of participation, business accounted for 50% of those at the WEF, politicians 20%, with the rest including NGOs and academics. "There are no more NGOs here than there were last year, and there as many business-centred sessions. We can't really win. In the past we've been attacked for being neo-liberals and neo-cons - now it's being suggested we're part of the sandal-wearing brigade."

Sir Digby, an unabashed promoter of business, said he would be writing to Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the WEF. "I will say two things - American influence is too strong, and you are apologising for business and you shouldn't be." The CBI director general said he was fed up with business being characterised as greedy. "Has anybody ever thought about the greed of the consumer? The consumer consistently wants more for less and business is expected to deliver it."

He said he would prefer the annual gathering to ask tougher questions of NGOs and African leaders. "I'd like to see a few sessions asking who pays for the NGOs, who they are accountable to, and why they are not sitting on the lawns of corrupt leaders. "I haven't heard one speech about the corruption of African leaders. Davos is becoming too politically correct. People here are worried about being seen as colonialist or imperialist."

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