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Awards cast critical eye on companies

And the sinner this year is: Swiss cabaret artist and actor Patrick Frey will host this year's Public Eye Awards. Public Eye/zvg

The Public Eye Awards, which run parallel to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, honour companies for "outstanding social and ecological irresponsibility".

This content was published on January 24, 2006 - 10:14

Nominees this year include Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Novartis, Syngenta, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Bayer AG and the Walt Disney Company.

The Public Eye Awards ceremony will take place on January 25, the opening day of the WEF in the Swiss mountain resort, and will highlight the behaviour of particularly irresponsible organisations.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from around the world have submitted the names of around 20 global companies to the Public Eye organisers, the Berne Declaration and Pro Natura. The firms have been nominated in the categories of social rights, environment and taxes.

Only Nestlé, the world's biggest food and beverage company, will be able to "defend" its nomination from the previous year. The Swiss firm is accused of, among other things, aggressive marketing of baby food.

The Basel-based pharmaceutical companies Novartis, Syngenta and Ciba Specialty Chemicals are all accused of having done too little to clean up the contaminated nuclear disposal site in canton Jura.

For the first time the organisers are handing out a "Positive Award" with a view to shedding their "naming and shaming" image, according to Oliver Classen from the Berne Declaration, a Swiss NGO.

One NGO will be selected for the Positive Award on account of its successful campaign against multinational companies.

Salt in the wound

"We want to add salt to the companies' wounds," Classen added, saying that most business leaders understand corporate responsibility to mean looking after the interests of the shareholders.

"Those managers who get together in Davos every year deliberately ignore the suffering of the seamstress in Bangladesh sewing together a pair of designer jeans or of indigenous people in oil-producing regions."

Classen says the Public Eye Awards are intended to remind business leaders and politicians with responsibility that the public is keeping a close eye on them.

Sonja Ribi from Pro Natura, another Swiss NGO, says it is a scandal that companies can ignore national legislation and benefit from corrupt and authoritarian balances of power.

She said only international and legally binding rules could make companies legally responsible, liable and accountable.

WEF criticism

The Public Eye Awards accuse the WEF of concentrating on free trade and competition rather than humanitarian and environmental crises.

The WEF says this leads to more growth and prosperity and thus more freedom and democracy for everyone.

The Public Eye organisers however say that protests against free trade and unhindered competition have already achieved some successes.

They say the current swing in opinion shows for example that "accusers will no longer have to prove the guilt of guilty companies, but rather those companies will increasingly have to prove their innocence".

Sham

The WEF does integrate NGOs on certain occasions, but the Public Eye Awards generally considers this a sham. It says the WEF, despite its Open Forum, remains anything but a neutral forum at which all civil society groups are better represented.

"Otherwise the WEF agenda – in addition to the conquering of Asian markets and the hype surrounding the latest technology – would include the downsides of economic short-termism, such as inhumane working conditions and the destruction of livelihoods."

Speakers at the Open Forum, which is affiliated to the WEF, are set to include Swiss cabinet ministers Moritz Leuenberger, Joseph Deiss and Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Oxford Professor Timothy Garton Ash, the feminist publisher Alice Schwarzer, Nestlé boss Peter Brabeck and the head of Novartis Daniel Vasella.

swissinfo, Etienne Strebel

Key facts

The Public Eye Awards is an anti-globalisation organisation.
The awards take place every January in parallel with the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.
The event is co-organised by Swiss political NGOs the Berne Declaration and Pro Natura.
The awards are closely connected with the World Social Forum, which is being divided this year between Caracas (Venezuela), Karachi (Pakistan) and Bamako (Mali).

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In brief

On January 25 the Swiss cabaret artist and actor Patrick Frey will host the Public Eye Awards 2006.

Last year's winners were Nestlé, the American pharmaceuticals company Dow Chemical, Royal Dutch Shell, Wal-Mart and financial analysts KPMG.

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