Davos Class: a silent global coup d’etat

The real concern about the WEF, however, is not the personal hypocrisy of its privileged delegates. It is rather that this unaccountable invitation-only gathering is increasingly where global decisions are being taken and moreover is becoming the default form of global governance. There is considerable evidence that past WEFs have stimulated free trade agreements such as NAFTA as well helped rein in regulation of Wall Street in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Less well known is the fact that WEF since 2009 has been working on an ambitious project called the Global Redesign Initiative, (GRI), which effectively proposes a transition away from intergovernmental decision-making towards a system of multi-stakeholder governance. In other words, by stealth, they are replacing a recognized model where we vote in governments who then negotiate treaties which are then ratified by our elected representatives with a model where a self-selected group of ‘stakeholders’make decisions on our behalf. …

An examination of the WEF’s board, is illustrative of the sort of elite groups that emerge as a result, given that WEF likes to see itself as a working model of this new multi-stakeholder world. WEF says that on its website that it is “accountable to all parts of society” carefully “blend[ing] and balanc[ing] the best of many kinds of organizations, from both the public and private sectors, international organizations and academic institutions.” But when only 6 of its 24 “exemplary” Board members are women (25%), 16 are from North America and Europe (67%), 22 of the 24 went to universities in US and Europe (10 in fact went to the same university, Harvard) and there is not one African Board member, it does raise questions about what they think accountability and representation looks like.

However its when you look at the careers of the Board members that the real driving force behind this model is clear. While half of the Board (12) are currently corporate executives, if you look at their career history, this rises to two-thirds. Only one member can be said to represent civil society (Peter Maurer of Red Cross). There are no representatives of trade unions, public sector organizations, human rights groups, peasant or indigenous organizations, students and youth.  …

This elite-led model of governance is proliferating globally like a virulent rash. The World Water Forum, the Marine Stewardship Council and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) are just three of thousands of multi-stakeholder groups .They are becoming the default option for global governance, and there is nothing in international law to stop this. What WEF is trying to do is to turn these models into a multi-stakeholder governance system. As Harris Gleckman points out, “What is ingenious and disturbing is that the WEF multi-stakeholder governance proposal does not require approval or disapproval by any intergovernmental body. Absent any intergovernmental action the informal transition to multi-stakeholder governance as a partial replacement of multilateralism can just happen.”

Davos and Its Threat to Democracy