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Why I went to Davos

20 January, 2017By Valter Sanches, General Secretary, IndustriALL Global Union

It’s not the first time that a general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union has joined the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. But it was the first time for me. So what’s the representative of 50 million industrial workers doing alongside global elites in an alpine ski resort?

Despite the World Economic Forum’s belief in multi-stakeholder initiatives, Davos remains a love-in for the rich and powerful. We, as global trade unions, are there to spoil the party. Left to their own devices, their view of the world would take on a rose-tinted hue.

Davos is a unique event in that it attracts a mix of heads of state, government ministers, CEOs, celebrities, academics and non-governmental organizations over four intense days. All under the watchful eye of the world’s media.

By participating, the leaders of the global unions not only have an insight into how the elites are thinking, but have also been able to influence the agenda at Davos. (And we don't pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to be a member like businesses do; we are invited to take part.)

If you take a look at the themes of discussion at Davos – of social inclusion, the effects of globalization on people and the future of work – these are all subjects that international trade unions have already put on the agenda. If we had turned our back on Davos, there would be no one to champion the voice of workers.

As leader of IndustriALL, I’m now a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on the Future of Production, an initiative to develop a common vision on how societies can shape future production so that it reinforces prosperity, opportunity, environmental sustainability and social progress that is inclusive and broad based. On the council are ministers from countries around the world, top academic institutions and multinational companies.

Membership allows IndustriALL to help formulate policies that in turn can have a direct influence of industrial policies in the many member states on board. We will be pushing for job creation, better working conditions, and training and qualifications for workers.

Davos also provides opportunities to meet with hard-to-pin-down CEOs and leaders of global institutions. This year, the trade union delegation met with the head of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevedo. We were able to press home the need for a fair model of international trade regulation. Without fairness, protectionism – of key debate at Davos - will only rise. 

Research by the ITUC shows that the global supply chains of 50 multinational companies employ only 6 per cent of workers directly. Which means they have a hidden workforce of 94 per cent – equal to 116 million people. These companies with a combined income of US$3.4 trillion have the power to reduce inequality, instead they rely on a model of production based on exclusion. 

Simply turning up and talking about alleviating poverty and a fair distribution of wealth is not enough. Especially at a time when according to Oxfam, eight men have as much wealth as 50 per cent of the world’s population. Last year this was calculated at 62 billionaires owning half the world’s wealth. Next year, will it be owned by just one man?