“Eighty two percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth” stated Oxfam in its report as 3,000 people from 134 countries—representing companies, governments, NGOs, academia and the media gathered in the Swiss ski resort. Many of the WEF attendees are representatives of the infamous one percent of the richest population. Membership and partnership fees at the WEF range from 50,000 to over 500,000 euros. The latter amount being paid by “companies representing outstanding firms that count among the world’s top innovators, market shapers, disruptors, niche market leaders and regional champions”
Informs the WEF webpage. This year, the Davos summit gathered popular politicians such as Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, and those that trigger less popularity in the international arena, such as Donald Trump, who was the first incumbent American president to attend the WEF since Bill Clinton in 2000.
The problem raised by Oxfam of increasing wealth inequalities is researched, commented on and disputed with an increasing frequency. The question remains of how to address it at the level of national and international governance. The topic of the 2018 Davos meeting was “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” and to some extent strived to answer that question. The Forum´s opening speaker, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, mentioned climate change, terrorism and the backlash against globalization as the key issues that need to be addressed, however, the discussion encompassed a broader spectrum of issues, touching upon topical problems reflecting recent social and political developments.
The recent impact of social media on electoral processes and the general polarization of political stances, caused by inter alia Facebook, Google and Twitter algorithms, has triggered discussion about regulating social media in the same way any other media is regulated. The Davos participants criticized social media for its inability to control extremist content. According to Edelman, a public relations company, which conducts annual Barometers of Trust in 28 countries, 7 in 10 respondents express their concern about false information or false news being used as weapons. The social media corporations were also critiqued for fomenting addiction to the Internet among young people focused on constant craving for virtual recognition.
The last year #MeToo campaign, disclosing the scale of women’s sexual abuse, was echoed by the WEF discussion on women’s right and equality. The afore-mentioned Oxfam report asks governments to implement “policies to tackle all forms of gender discrimination, promote positive social norms and attitudes towards women and women’s work, and rebalance power dynamics at the household, local, national and international levels.” Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about corporations’ social responsibility to address issues of gender gap in terms of possibilities of professional careers and salaries. The remuneration was also discussed from the perspective of disproportionately high executive salaries in relation to the salaries of corporations’ workers. The development of modern technologies that leads to increasing automatization of different branches of industry and subsequent structural unemployment led Davos participants to debate about the need for new approaches in the education sector, placing emphasis on soft skills and departing from traditional educational practices which are a mismatch in the contemporary world.
The issues raised at Davos are topical and important. The question remains whether the WEF participants truly comprehend the severity of the problems discussed for the employees they hire and citizens they govern. The most acute example of recognition of how remote the discussed problems are for the members of the Davos Forum was the initiative ‘A Day in the Life of a Refugee’, a simulated 75-minute workshop provided for the delegates by the non-profit Crossroads Foundation. The project aimed to “re-create some of the struggles and choices [refugees] face to survive” and was very well received by those who participated. Yet, one cannot help but ask the question, how distant are the contemporary problems to those who gathered in the Swiss ski resort, where the price of a bottle of water can reach 15 euros and – more importantly – is it in their interest to solve them?