• No escape from the glare of the public eye

    Blogpost by Ben Stewart - January 30, 2013 at 11:46 Add comment

    Davos, where the 1% come to be among themselves.

    Black SUVs cruise the icy roads, snipers crouch on rooftops, bodyguards step out of hotel doorways and survey the scene before their charges follow them onto the pavement and billion dollar deals are discussed over fondue.

    The media are apt to call this place a fortress – and it's true that the armed police are ever-present. But you'd struggle to find any delegates here who feel truly besieged.

    And given that the 2,400 'white badges' – the invitees from the worlds of business and politics – can reasonably be said to have our common future in their hands, that is perhaps unfortunate.

    Because where any concentration of great power resides, so should the voices of the people whose lives it directs.

    Which is why Greenpeace was represented on a panel this morning that announced the winners of this year's Public Eye Awards.

    Public Eye Awards, Davos

    Founded by the Berne Declaration – the Swiss public accountability NGO – the awards are granted to the global corporations deemed to have most egregiously trampled ethics in the pursuit of profit.

    As you can imagine, the field of contenders is always crowded.

    A jury of experts drawn from civil society was charged with deciding upon the recipient of one award, while the other – the public prize – was decided by an open, online vote.

    This morning in a hall just 100 metres from the Promenade, where the delegates meander between bilaterals, a packed press conference witnessed the announcement of the winners.

    When you've been described as a 'giant blood-sucking vampire squid' you could be forgiven for expecting that a Public Eye Award was coming your way some time soon, and so it was that Goldman Sachs was rewarded with the Jury Prize.

    Michael Baumgartner, Chairman of the Public Eye Awards jury, said this:

    "Not only is Goldman Sachs one of the main winners of the financial crisis, this bank is also a key player in the raw materials casino. It has tapped into these markets as a new source of income and destabilised raw material prices. When food prices break all records, like in 2008, millions of people are plunged into hunger and hardship."

    A worthy winner then.

    But what of the Public Award then?

    Unlike pretty much anywhere else than in Davos, the people have spoken, and the award goes to Shell.

    It's not been a great few months for the company. Its programme to drill for oil in the Arctic – where it's blazing a trail – has faced manifold setbacks.

    On New Year's Day its drilling rig was grounded on an island off Alaska after breaking free of its tow lines in fierce winds, and soon afterwards the Obama administration announced a review into whether the company should be permitted to continue exploration this summer.

    But none of this has set Shell and its CEO Peter Voser off course, they are as determined as ever to open up the Arctic to offshore drilling.

    So I sometimes wonder what an alien species observing our planet would make of us. Would we be regarded as ripe for invasion? Were those aliens to examine Shell's Arctic plans they may very well think we are.

    The sea ice is retreating rapidly, a direct and undeniable consequence of warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels like oil. Already the Earth looks radically different from space, but do we heed this warning from nature?

    No, not if you're an executive at Royal Anglo-Dutch Shell, you don't.

    Instead you follow the extremities of the retreating ice, far out into the Arctic Ocean, in pursuit of the very fuel that caused the melting in the first place.

    Our alien observers may very well conclude that humanity has, in the person of Peter Voser, failed what some people call the Idiot Test.

    For that reason he leaves Davos with the Public Eye Award.