Davos exposed the fault lines of division. Only a new social contract will heal the world

The annual gathering of politicians and CEOs at the World Economic Forum in Davos confronted the challenges of a fractured world but in the process exposed the fault lines of division.

Seven women co-chairs could agree that there is a need for a new social contract to ensure gender equality including financial equality, shared prosperity through quality jobs, social protection and living wages, respect for human and labour rights, access to climate action and a regulatory environment to support beneficial technologies in a world with a strong commitment to science.

There was also a growing community of business, labour and civil society leaders committed to healing the fractures of today’s world, including the world of work, as a foundation for shaping the future – a diverse community prepared to lead on the imperative of climate action and balance the opportunities of technology while taking care to mitigate the risks.

But there remains the group dedicated to clinging to the exploitative model that created the 1 per cent off the back of oppression of the current global supply chain model. The conversation in this camp was a bullish promotion that 3.4 per cent global growth meant that their world was back on track: mergers and acquisitions, bloated equities, technological futures that allowed further arbitrage of labour amongst other measures to take more costs out of the system and inflate profits.

And there was a clear division between leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recognised the divisions in society including in her own country. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that globalisation hasn’t benefitted all people.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron underscored the call of the three of them for cooperation across nations when he said: ‘Let us not be naive – globalisation is going through a major crisis and this challenge needs to be collectively fought by states and civil society in order to find and implement global solutions.”

By comparison Donald Trump’s “America first” refrain was justified by a rationale that all countries should put their own first, that the United States has been unfairly treated by global trade and that any multilateral agreement would have to be on his terms.

With a softer approach, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in equal measure selling his policies as an unmitigated success. He did promote action on climate but did not explain why so many millions of Indians have taken to the streets and public squares to protest the removal of rights and entitlements for workers. Both leaders failed to acknowledge the poverty and division that is in the heart of their nations while promoting the “open for business” refrain.

Then there were the outliers.

Brazil’s Michel Temer, appointed to the presidency by a congress riddled with corruption and using his own parliamentary immunity to hide from corruption charges, is supported by about 3 per cent of Brazilians. His “efficient state” is just a euphemism for “my government will hand over the country’s wealth to asset-strippers and corporate pirates”. On the day Michel Temer addressed Davos, Brazil’s most popular politician, Lula, a former president who lifted tens of millions out of poverty, was sentenced to 14 years in prison with no evidence of corruption. Lula’s trial was beyond even Kafka’s wildest fantasies and had but one purpose – to stop him becoming president again.

The politics of greed is corrupting our democracies.

And finally there was Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu whose government shows no remorse over the occupation of the lands of the Palestinian people for 50 years. On the contrary, he was putting Iran and other nations on notice with a focus on nuclear weapons, while he is expected soon to testify over allegations of a corrupt defence contract.

Inequality, unemployment, historic displacement of people, violence against women, marginalised young people, increasing military conflict with an escalation of spending on armaments – a fractured world indeed and too few global leaders with the maturity to effect change.

To negotiate a shared future that realises the promises of the sustainable development goals in a peaceful world requires a movement for change.

What working people want:

85% say it’s time to rewrite the rules of the global economy.

93% want their government to stop corporate abuse and support the rule of law.

95% want governments to be more committed to jobs and decent work.

82% want governments to take a stand on discrimination against women.

Our world is three times richer than it was thirty years ago. We have the resources, but we need to stand together to change the rules, to globalise compassion and ensure a place for everyone.

To do otherwise is to allow peace and democracy to become collateral damage.

A new social contract

The Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement are agreed global solutions. This must mean a Just Transition to a zero-poverty, zero-carbon world, but it requires a new social contract.

1. Fundamental reform of governance for peace and social and economic justice;

2. Macroeconomic policy based on inclusive growth, jobs and decent work, with reform of multilateral institutions;

3. Minimum living wages and collective bargaining;

4. Just transitions for workers and communities affected by climate action or technological change;

5. Universal social protection and vital public services;

6. A social license for business to operate;

7. Laws that work for people and guarantee their rights based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ILO labour standards;

8. Implementation of the European Social Pillar recognising the opportunity it shows to shape the future of work globally;

9. Human deployment of technology and human control of a data commons;

10. Life-long learning;

11. Elimination of violence against women;

12. Inclusion of migrants and refugees;

13. An end to corporate tax cheating and corruption.