Davos's Dubious Strategic Partners

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Fri Jan 25 00:27:44 GMT 2013

James Gibney may have lost his job now  - but this is a great article
Now deleted from the Bloomberg site

Davos's Dubious Strategic Partners
By James Gibney Jan 23, 2013 1:27 PM GMT+0000

The aspirational hypocrisy of the World Economic Forum is enshrined 
in its motto: "Committed to Improving the State of the World." Unlike 
other storied global conspiracies -- the Trilateral Commission, for 
example, or the Bilderberg Group and the Bohemian Club -- whose 
members are presumed to be in it just for the filthy lucre and 
power-mongering, the WEF makes a big deal of its embrace of 
rainbow-hued do-gooders. The Forum is forever trumpeting its 
commitment to transparency and inclusiveness along with a burgeoning 
list of initiatives to advance the same.

But let's follow the money -- where it comes from and where it goes, 
starting with the 100-plus strategic partners who, as the forum puts 
it, "comprise some of the world's leading corporate citizens and 
provide essential leadership in support of the Forum's mission." In 
2012, they contributed slightly more than half the WEF's revenues 
(some 178 million Swiss francs, or about $192 million).

Consider one such leading corporate citizen: Axel Weber, co-chairman 
of this year's Davos meetings and chairman of UBS, Switzerland's 
largest bank. Last year, his company was fined $1.5 billion for its 
schemes to rig global interest rates. The U.S. Commodity Futures 
Trading Commission cited more than 2,000 instances of illegal acts 
involving dozens of UBS employees. And that scandal followed a $780 
million U.S. settlement in 2009 over charges that the bank had helped 
U.S. clients avoid taxes. WEF founder Klaus Schwab's choice of Mr. 
Weber as co-chairman perhaps speaks volumes about his own values.

Other strategic partners include Bank of America Corp., which just 
agreed to pay Fannie Mae $10 billion to settle allegations that it 
had improperly handled mortgages; Barclays Plc, which also paid 
nearly a half-billion dollars in a settlement over manipulating 
interest rates and faces record fines for trying to fiddle energy 
markets; Citigroup Inc., which last year settled a lawsuit over 
sub-prime mortgages for $590 million; Credit Suisse, out more than a 
half-billion dollars for money laundering. I'll stop at the C's, 
leaving out Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Standard Chartered, 
and other financial strategic partners that are either under 
investigation or have collectively paid billions in fines for a 
variety of bad behaviors. I also won't go into the various 
settlements over allegations of bribery and bid-rigging by some of 
WEF's non-financial strategic partners, such as ABB and Accenture.

These companies may have skipped all the Davos sessions on 
transparency, ethics and holding stakeholders in high regard, but 
they have done wonders for the Forum's bottom line. From 2002 to 
2012, partnership revenue more than quadrupled as overall revenue 
more than doubled. The Forum's headcount, meanwhile, has gone from 
139 full-time staff members to 371.

Many of these people do good work, putting out interesting reports 
and holding one heck of a global salon. But the interests they 
represent are corporate -- no more, no less. "Improving the state of 
the world," added to the Forum's logo well into its third decade, 
comes behind networking and dealmaking.

A recent quote from Sir Martin Sorrell, chairman of WPP -- another 
Forum strategic partner -- is instructive. Asked about the right 
model for corporate taxation, he magnanimously told the BBC: "The 
right model is you make a contribution. All contributions you make to 
your stakeholders are a question of judgment. There are the rules," 
he said. "If then companies choose... in terms of building their 
long-term brands to make a contribution to all the stakeholders, all 
credit to them." Payment of taxes, in other words, is at the 
discretion of global corporations.

That's mighty generous of you, Sir Martin. As Oliver Twist once said, 
"Please, sir, I want some more."

I have a modest proposal for the Forum's strategic partners: If you 
want to improve the state of the world, start by obeying laws and 
paying your taxes. Until then, spare us the high-minded, 
multi-stakeholder palaver.

(James Gibney is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. 
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"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which 
alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung

Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered that shall not be 
revealed; and nothing hid that shall not be made known. What I tell 
you in darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye hear in the 
ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27

Die Pride and Envie; Flesh, take the poor's advice.
Covetousnesse be gon: Come, Truth and Love arise.
Patience take the Crown; throw Anger out of dores:
Cast out Hypocrisie and Lust, which follows whores:
Then England sit in rest; Thy sorrows will have end;
Thy Sons will live in peace, and each will be a friend.
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