Hello Davos at long last! It feels a little weird—being here in summer, and also like the prom date who's been stood up four times. but Davos is on, and there are 1,500 private planes here to prove it. I’d hired an assistant named Mila for the conference because I couldn’t very well be seen setting up my own meetings or trying to get myself into parties. I had several invites already but you never really do know which ones will be the hot ticket until you get here. I’d also set her to the task of sorting out a driver.
A summer conference meant summer clothes, and I refused to be clomping around in wedge-sandals just because modern pavement hadn’t met old Europe. This is among the things Americans find particularly galling and I am starting to agree with them. Hotels never advertise the abysmal water pressure, the inability to use a hairdryer in bathroom, or the two children’s beds shoved together and presented as a king.
I walked through the Partner’s Lounge after checking in with hospitality and could see there were very few women, in addition to a thousand fewer attendees than in previous years. It was hard to know if the drop-off in attendance was rising anti-elitist sentiment, or Putin's war in Ukraine, but many of the A-listers weren’t coming at all. Not Biden, or Boris, or Macron, or Prince Charles or even Greta. And not even Jamie Dimon, which was a double blow because Jamie’s always liked me, and it meant no JP Morgan Chase-hosted suite. Boo! In its geographic place this year is the Covid testing area, to which we all had to submit upon arrival.
Mila arrived on foot, and with a local bus map mumbling something about Line 4 (Flüelastrasse). Bus? This wasn’t going well. I was going to have to skip the second half of Xi Jinping to get ready for the India Today party. It’s just as well, it was hard for me not to focus on the singular-plural mismatch by Xi’s translator. Also I wasn’t happy Klaus opened with Xi. I know we are the World Economic Forum but let’s be honest, the environment is our focus and I won’t give China any credit in that department. Detractors may find us duplicitous (we really should be called the World Environmental Forum) but they don’t grasp how important it is to do our fine work by any means necessary.
India Today went all out for the party, even if it wasn’t terribly exclusive. India itself had the biggest presence at the conference and they wanted to make sure everyone knew it. They had a hundred CEOs and a dozen government leaders. They insist its ‘India’s Century’, that they have the talent pool, and that they played a critical role in vaccinations. Did they? I seem to only remember Donald Trump saying he personally saved two million lives with his vaccine. But tonight I am to accept that India contributed the most. Maybe. But the planet is my passion and as for India… it was #2 on my environmental offender list, and I didn’t have a #3.
Also missing from this year’s conference were every single one of my clients. It was just as well because the theme seemed to be bullseyes on the billionaires. And I was having a tough time squaring this because everyone that I work with is committed to zero carbon emissions and doing what they can to save our planet.
Day two came both bright and early. Perhaps one too many Mumbai Mules. The last I remembered was a back-and-forth between California’s Darrell Issa and England’s Nick Clegg. I don’t know anything about Mr Issa but the most interesting thing about Nick is his wife and he turned up without her. Separate from that, I’ll never understand why he thought it smart to tell GQ he had bedded ‘not more than thirty women’ but I think he will always be remembered for his failed attempt to reform the House of Lords. All of this escaped Mr Issa, an American congressman who used to chair something called ‘The Oversight Committee’. That kept me laughing most of the night.
Today I get my Schwab Foundation Award! I wanted to wear an asymmetrical Armani knit but I was afraid it wouldn’t photograph well so I opted for a sustainable label. No sooner had I stepped off the stage, I was rushed by a pre-pubescent prat sporting the dreaded orange (press) badge. UGH! He wasn’t here to congratulate me either. He launched into a rant against Barclays (the presenter of the awards). Seriously? How dare you! I’m the bug hostess, and my efforts may just make the difference between saving the planet and not! Plus I was kind of hoping I might parlay this into a stakeholder position with Barclays. ‘By the way, Barclays—you idiot—just set aside £17m for a sustainable impact programme’, I said, moving away from him. ‘…and they provide menopause support to retain their top talent!’
I think the last bit shocked him but he yelled back, ’Barclays' renewable energy banking chief has served on the board of the Sierra Club!’
‘Well yay Barclays!’ I retorted, really trying to lose him this time. Why is everybody so cranky post-Covid?
He wouldn't stop. ‘But the Sierra Club has been killing off nuclear plants around the U.S., while taking money from renewable energy companies. Turns out it’s a very lucrative business’.
UGH! He had me and I knew it. Nuclear is by far the safest way to make reliable electricity and its particulate matter is insignificant compared to the particulate matter from fossil-and biomass-burning homes, cars, and power plants, which kill more than eight million people a year. I said nothing and left the room. It was day three and I was sure to let security know one of the orange tags had slipped through and harassed me. Orange Man Bad! as the saying goes.
I decided to interview a few folks myself, to discuss the things I wished to discuss and was heading straight for Henry Kissinger when Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of UNAIDS thrust herself into my mic. Oh Lord. Keep it light I thought, as she jumped right in. ‘Extreme inequality is out of control, it’s undermining our economies, and fueling crime’, she said.
‘Thank you’. I said. I'd heard her speak earlier. She thought if anyone has any more than another, it qualified as inequality and someone was cheating. ‘We don't want countries to simply come to Davos, we want them to put the burden on companies and rich people'. She used the example that in 1970 the top tax rates were around 62 percent and that today they've been 'negotiated down by rich people’.
‘Do you know I work with poultry workers in the richest country in the world? The United States? And the poultry worker I spoke to has to wear diapers because she is not allowed to go to the bathroom. These companies pay their CEOs well and cheat workers down the line’.
Of course I didn’t know any of this, nor did I believe it, but she wouldn't shut up so I googled it on my phone to find that the average salary of a poultry worker is $29,000 a year or about $14.10 per hour. No mention if that included diapers. ‘Do you know that $170 billion of profits, every single year, does not get taxed? Think about that, $170 billion a year that is not given to others to support themselves', she banged on.
There was no point explaining to her that all profits were not owed to someone else, and that if every country that came to Davos was forced into 'the burden of high taxation' no one would come here. This she called inequality. And she went on about how 'jobs were not enough… people need dignified jobs'. Fascinating really. This woman from Uganda, now making a quarter of a million dollars a year, was telling me that American jobs were not dignified--enough. And failure to hand over profits was stealing. 'Not dignified enough', she insisted.
I wanted to ask if she knew there were nearly ten million slaves in Africa but I did not. But more than that, I wanted her to shut up. Apparently she had checked with the IMF and they told her, companies could afford to pay more. And in her mind that translated to must. This she explained, would fight climate change because apparently with more money, the first thing people do is become passionate about their carbon footprint.
I tried to interject, and eventually I said: 'As I haven’t the occupational garments of those poultry women… I really must excuse myself.’ Suddenly, I was thankful for Mila and her bus schedule.