In a special address at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, announced that Canada and the 10 remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership had reached an agreement in Tokyo earlier in the day on a new “Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership”, or the CPTPP.
“Today is a great day for Canada,” said Trudeau, “but it’s also a great day for progressive trade around the world.”
Trudeau couched the new agreement in terms of shared determination to address and correct the inequitable distribution of the fruits of global trade in previous decades. “We cannot neglect our responsibility to the people who matter most – the people who aren’t here in Davos, and never will be.” The anxiety and fear they feel is valid, said Trudeau. “If you’re anxious,” he said, directly addressing participants, “imagine how the folks who aren’t in this room must be feeling.”
“For them,” Trudeau said, “technology is a benefit to their personal lives, but a threat to their jobs.”
“Society is demanding that companies both public and private serve a social purpose,” said Trudeau. “Sitting back and hoping some other corporation or some other country volunteers to take the lead on this will get us nowhere.”
Trudeau then made an impassioned case for “hiring, promoting and retaining more women,” arguing that not only is it the right thing to do, but it is also more economically sensible – and that a growing female workforce and better gender equality in the workplace translates into higher profits and a deeper pool of innovation.
His address reached a crescendo as he addressed the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault that have dominated headlines in many countries. “Finally, here’s the really big one,” he said. “MeToo. Time’s up. The Women’s March. These movements tell us that we need to have a critical discussion on women’s rights, equality and the power dynamics of gender. Sexual harassment, for example, in business and government, is a systemic problem.”
Trudeau’s full-throated feminist address was followed by a panel featuring the Annual Meeting’s first all-female group of Co-Chairs, who shared their perspectives on the meeting’s theme: Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World. Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Washington DC, moderated the panel and asked each Co-Chair to share what they had learned from fracture – the populist backlash, rising nationalism, anxiety over artificial intelligence and advanced robotics, and more – or to talk about examples of ways forward.
Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, pointed to SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East), the first major international research centre in the Middle East. Located in Jordan, it brings together scientists from across the region – including researchers from Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt. “They cannot solve geopolitical conflicts, but they can break down barriers,” Gianotti said, adding that they represent “seeds of peace and collaboration in a fractured world.”
Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of IBM Corporation, USA, offered the example of the three principles that IBM applies when introducing potentially disruptive technologies – especially AI-related technologies – to the market. To practice what IBM terms “Responsible Stewardship,” Rometty said, “you must usher these new technologies in with purpose and transparency … You have to live by a set of data principles, and be very clear that data belongs to the customer or consumer… [and] you have an obligation to prepare the workers of the world for this revolution.”
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Brussels, called for a “new social contract” that could go far to rebuild and restore faith in globalization. She urged participants to recognize a universal right to collective bargaining – something that has badly eroded in previous decades of globalization, creating resentment – and to “bring the hidden workforce out of the shadows.”
Isabelle Kocher, Chief Executive Officer, ENGIE, France, focused on the issue of climate change, describing it as “a real test – because it is a real global challenge, probably the first one,” because CO2 has, she said, “a global account.” She described how ENGIE took the decision to eliminate 20% of its energy plants, mostly coal-fired – 15 billion euros in assets. Two years later, she can attest that the decision was “value-creative”. Kocher said: “You get a premium from your customers, your stakeholders … [but] most important is what happened within the company,” said Kocher. “The civil society is within the company. Our 155,000 people were fantastic. I was impressed by the increased engagement you get when you do this.”
Chetna Sinha, Founder and Chair, Mann Deshi Foundation, India, talked about fracture in terms of the gap separating poor rural women from the financial system in India. She described how she was initially turned down when applying for a banking licence from the Central Bank of India on the grounds that her bank employees were illiterate. Sinha related how they challenged the Central Bank, saying “We may be illiterate, but we can count,” and demanding to be tested against bank employees in calculator-free calculations of interest. Sinha was awarded the licence, and now works with half a million rural women.
Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, highlighted the ability of states to solve problems. “More people are living better off than ever. More children are not dying their first five years. There is more equality on one level,” she said. But states are strapped for funds they could invest in programmes to better prepare new workers and reskill people against the inevitable disruptions. “No government can run without money,” she said, but as states compete by lower corporate tax rates, state coffers are depleted. “Maybe we should stop this race to the bottom,” she suggested.
The World Economic Forum’s 48th Annual Meeting is taking place on 23-26 January 2018 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. More than 3,000 leaders from around the world are gathering i
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