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Davos pushes the caring face of capitalism PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 27 January 2008

Agence France-Presse. Davos, Switzerland

Corporate responsibility rather than profit took centre stage in Davos on Friday, as the annual get-together of business chiefs turned its attention to issues of health, aid and development. Rock star activist Bono, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates and UN chief Ban Ki-moon steered the conversation away from the global economy and geopolitics, towards issues such as malaria eradication, poverty alleviation and climate change.

Ban challenged delegates to renew a commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals, aimed at halving extreme poverty, boosting health and education and further empowering women across the developing world by 2015.

'Too many nations have fallen behind,' he said. 'We need new ideas and fresh approaches.' The Davos event has long prided itself on showing the caring side of capitalism, although participants have often been criticised for trumpeting big ideas on big issues in public, while actually expending most of their energy on corridor schmoosing and backroom deals.

Bono, decrying the international community's failure to live up to its promises on development, said it was time to go beyond purely 'moral' statements of intent. 'I would like to turn our moral compact into legally binding contracts. Then my advice to the developing world? Get a good lawyer and haul our asses into court,' the U2 frontman said. This year's Davos event has drawn nearly 30 heads of state or government, more than 110 cabinet ministers and several hundred corporate chiefs.

Peter Sands, chief executive of international bank Standard Chartered, stressed that appeals for corporate social responsibility had to take into account the prime duty of company managers. 'If we lose sight of our core function of serving our customers and creating shareholder value... we'll be out of our jobs,' Sands said.

Gates, a perennial Davos participant, announced 306 million dollars (208 million euros) of grants to develop farming in poor countries, marking a major push into agriculture by his charitable foundation which has previously focused on public health. 'If we are serious about ending extreme hunger and poverty around the world, we must be serious about transforming agriculture for small farmers, most of whom are women,' he said.

For Gates it was his last appearance at Davos as chief executive and chairman of Microsoft. He plans to step down in July and devote his time to running his foundation. Attending his first Davos as prime minister was Britain's Gordon Brown, who called for major reforms of international institutions.

'The IMF, the World Bank and the United Nations were built for the problems of the 1940s and can't deal with the problems we have in 2008,' Brown said, citing the challenges posed by climate change, conflict-ridden states, non-state terrorism and the threat of global pandemics. 'I can't see why we should not move immediately to the World Bank becoming a World Bank for the environment as well as development,' he added.

In recent years the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos has been held against a backdrop of bumper corporate profits, strong economic growth and tame inflation. But this year, a distinctly gloomy atmosphere has prevailed, amid wild swings on global stock markets, fears of a US recession and rising oil, food and other commodity prices.

The situation was to be addressed later Friday with a round-table discussion on the theme of 'Global Economic Shocks: Perfect Storm Ahead?' Thursday had seen the focus of debate switch to the situation in the Middle East and efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a speech to delegates, the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, urged them to pull out of Iran and isolate the Islamic republic. 'Tremendous power is gathered in this room. The importance of wealth is not only to mingle and engage in social interaction, but for policy making,' Livni said.

Arguing that Iran's nuclear ambitions threatened 'the entire global community,' she appealed to the delegates' personal sense of responsibility. 'If every company here, if every country represented here would decide to divest from Iran, that can stop Iran,' she added. 'The decision is in your hands.'

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