World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25-30 January, 2001


An IPS Publication

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Patricia Made

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World Economic Forum

DEVELOPMENT: Alternative Forums to Compete with Davos

By Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Jan 23 (IPS) - The World Economic Forum of Davos, Switzerland, will begin its meeting later this week amid a level of controversy that is unprecedented in its 30-year history of promoting the consolidation of a neoliberal world economy.

The tensions are reflected in the alternative meetings to be held simultaneously - in Davos itself, in nearby Zurich, and in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Organised by non-governmental groups, the alternative events are intended to counterbalance the ideas that serve as the basis for the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The regular WEF meeting is slated for Jan 25 to 30 at the tourist haven of Davos, with participants to include government leaders, academics and transnational corporate executives.

''Our job is to help the business community reach out to other parts of society,'' stated Klaus Schwab, founder and president of the Davos Forum.

Unlike in previous years, the organisers at Davos now recognise the existence of a growing opposition to the neoliberal model for globalisation.

Their concern is evident in the theme of the WEF meeting - ''Bridging the Divides: Creating a Roadmap for the Global Future,'' and in one of its principal agenda points - ''Addressing the Globalisation Backlash.''

A short distance from the WEF gathering, an independent, parallel conference has been organised, also for Thursday through Sunday, by The Public Eye on Davos, a joint initiative of several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that question the Forum's neoliberal policy.

The Public Eye on Davos campaign defines the WEF ''as a strong motor of neoliberal policies and, at the same time, a perfect publicity agent for its members: the 1000 largest private corporations worldwide.''

The same campaign accuses the Forum of categorising journalists into three groups, ''those who are excluded altogether, those who are 'working class' and excluded from certain meetings, and those who belong to the club of 'World Media Leaders,' who enjoy many privileges.''

This hierarchical structure for media access makes it easy for the WEF ''to control, to a certain extent, what will be published and how,'' maintains The Public Eye on Davos, a campaign coordinated by the Declaration of Bern, a Swiss organisation advocating for more equitable relations between the industrialised North and the developing South.

Another rival to the WEF is to meet, beginning Friday, in Zurich, organised by ''The Other Davos,'' which unites organisations such as the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (ATTAC) and Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique.

''The Other Davos'' agenda focuses on the social and cultural effects of the current process of economic globalisation.

The group is supporting demonstrations against neoliberal globalisation announced for Saturday, Jan 27, in Davos despite the tight security the Swiss government has provided for the difficult- to-reach Alpine resort.

''The Other Davos'' has denounced the Swiss authorities for applying unfair criteria, because they receive Colombian President Andrés Pastrana with military protection, but turn away the leaders of Colombia's peasant groups.

The third alternative meeting is the World Social Forum, in contrast to the emphasis on economics and finance at Davos, and is also to run Jan 25 to 30. Over 500 national and international organisations will be represented this week in Porto Alegre, a city southern Brazil, known for its progressive social policies.

The manifesto of the World Social Forum proposes the creation of an international space for all people who oppose neoliberal policies to reflect on issues and to organise against economic globalisation.

Participants in the Porto Alegre meeting will include delegates from NGOs, social movements, trade unions and religious groups.

The World Confederation of Labour (WCL), the second largest international union, announced that its secretary-general, Willy Thys, be at the Brazilian meeting.

The WCL stated in a pre-Porto Alegre declaration that the world of trade unions seeks above all to create a social movement that will transform the dominant neoliberal economic system.

Meanwhile, the Davos Forum has reported that its participants will include Bill Jordan, secretary-general of the International Confederation of Free-Trade Unions (ICFTU), the world's largest union organisation. (END/IPS/tra-so/pc/dm/ld/01)

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