LONDON, May 31 (IPS) – At this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, which ended last week, the attention of the world’s financial and economic elite was drawn to the war in Ukraine, whose president Volodimir Zelensky used his speech to call for “complete withdrawal of foreign companies from the Russian market”, despite 380 of the largest multinational companies still operating in Russia.
Many companies that still had a presence in Russia sat in the audience as Zelensky spoke, including HSBC which still maintains operations for existing customers, and Credit Suisse which is scaling it back without indicating that it would withdraw from Russia due to the invasion. This is especially troubling given the leaked data in Suisse Secrets about how Credit Suisse greased the wheels of many oligarchs prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The banks in Davos are likely to hold assets of many of the more than 6,163 sanctioned Russian individuals and entities, despite anti-money laundering efforts to trace these funds hidden behind shell companies. This money, in turn, is often held in accounts at banks that participate in the annual Davos meetings, and their assets may never even be disclosed due to the lack of stricter banking laws and financial transparency.
Ironically, even talking about these secret accounts, and the leaks associated with them, is a criminal offense in Davos under draconian Swiss banking secrecy laws, so raising the matter could get you arrested and fined. Credit Suisse has only committed to “stopping new business in Russia while meaningfully reducing exposure by 56%.” The imbalance is striking and none of the panels in Davos have addressed this inconvenient issue.
Worryingly, this indicates a business-as-usual approach by many of the top companies represented in Davos, not only failing to address Russian oligarchs, but more broadly ignoring the issue of offshore funds that owned by powerful individuals and politicians from the South.
It is revealing that the event only had 52 participants from Africa on the official list, out of a total of more than 1,500 announced participants. Winnie Byanyima, director of UN AIDS, was one of them. She called out the vaccine inequality and asked delegates to “stop pushing Africa to the back of the pack on access to vaccines” and called the patent protection laws a form of institutional racism in times of a global pandemic like COVID-19.
The debt crisis should also have been on Davos’ agenda, as on the eve of the Davos opening on May 19, we saw Sri Lanka go into a balance of payments and debt crisis as their 30 days grace period to pay off the debts . creditors expire. The dues are mainly due to private creditors who make up the largest group of creditors in Sri Lanka, many of whom, such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, were in the audience in Davos and did not want to commit to debt restructuring of private creditors.
Some of these issues were picked up by the annual Global Risk Report, where the top global risks identified over the next two years are extreme weather events and a livelihood crisis, followed by the risk of climate change not being addressed. Debt ranks 8th most at risk, which went unnoticed by many of the respondents to the annual survey – 63% of whom are men and 41% are corporate, largely represented by Europeans, with 44% of all respondents was drawn from the region, with only 6% coming from South Asia.
Why then do the media focus on a meeting in Davos that yields nothing meaningful? It’s a symbol of our times and a place where the business elite come together and give their view of the world – and where a few critics can voice their opinion about how it’s underperforming every year. Given the mounting crises we are currently facing and the role that responsible large companies must play, this is clearly not enough.
Matti Kohonen is the director of the Financial Transparency Coalition and previously served at Christian Aid as the chief adviser to the private sector, ensuring the private sector is a responsible and accountable player in global development.
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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service