Amid Mushrooming Wars and Other Global Crises, the WEF’s Corporate Takeover of the UN Continues Apace

The multistakeholder model being embraced by the UN gives corporations even more power over society, the economy and the environment, at the expense of national democratic institutions.

At last week’s COP 28 Summit, held in Dubai, which as Yves pointed out is one of the most air conditioned cities on the planet, indigenous groups kicked up a storm about the unprecedented number of fossil fuel lobbyists attending the UN talks. At least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists had been granted access to the negotiations, according to an analysis cited by the Guardian. That’s four times the number registered for COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, itself a record year, and seven times the number of official indigenous delegates.

Also heavily represented at the negotiations were Big Ag corporations — hardly surprising given that one of the main talking points at this year’s event was tackling emissions from the food sector. From De Smog:

Attendees are present from some of the world’s largest agribusiness firms – such as meatpacker JBS, fertiliser giant Nutrien, food giant Nestlé and pesticide firm Bayer – and powerful industry trade groups.

Meat and dairy interests are especially well represented with 120 delegates in Dubai, triple the number that attended COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Overall the analysis of the delegates list by DeSmog shows that the total number of people representing the interests of agribusiness has more than doubled since 2022 to reach 340.

In addition, the analysis reveals that over 100 delegates have travelled to Dubai as part of country delegations, which grants privileged access to diplomatic negotiations. This number is up from just 10 in 2022…

“With greater scrutiny over emissions from meat and dairy companies, it is not surprising they are stepping up their game to head off any COP outcome that might hinder their operations,” Ben Lilliston, from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy told DeSmog.

“Even so, a tripling of delegates is alarming – it drives home the urgent need for reforms that limit corporate influence at UN climate meetings.”

A Shift in Global Governance

If anything, the opposite is happening. The rapid rise in both the number and, presumably, influence of corporate lobbyists at the UN climate summit is part of a rarely discussed but hugely significant shift in global governance that has been under way for decades but is dangerously close to completion: the corporate takeover of the United Nations. The process is poised to accelerate further at next year’s UN Future Summit, as the renowned German financial journalist Norbert Häring recently warned on his blog:

The complete subjugation of the UN to corporate interests, which the World Economic Forum outlined with its Global Redesign Initiative in 2010 and has successfully pursued since then, is to be enshrined in the rules and regulations of the world organisation at the UN Future Summit in 2024. This is important not least because of the planned pandemic agreement, which is to give WHO excessive powers.

In his 2021 report “Our Common Agenda”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres outlined his ideas for reforming the way international organisations work (global governance) and set up a High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism to draw up reform proposals. These were then supposed to be discussed at the UN General Assembly in September 2023 and translated into concrete resolutions.

However, there was resistance from the G77 group, which represents countries of the Global South. The discussion of the High-Level Advisory Board’s proposals was therefore postponed until next year. This “multi-stakeholder future summit” is now to take place in September 2024 and decide on the main features of the UN reform.

The High-Level Advisory Board has already published an 83-page report outlining the steps needed to modernise the world’s foremost multilateral institution. It includes the following paragraph (on page 18):

Our global governance system has a glaring hole: the private sector. Companies of all sizes drive advancements in new technologies; energy, industrial, and agricultural companies are
responsible for a huge portion of our global carbon emissions and pollution; banks and
finance companies handle our global financial flows; and private companies deliver most of
our goods. But our multilateral treaties largely ignore these actors, wrongly assuming that
State action is sufficient to regulate this global network of private actors.

This paragraph could have been lifted straight out of the World Economic Forum’s Global Redesign Initiative (2010), which was led by the WEF’s three most senior executives – Klaus Schwab, its Executive Chairman; Mark Malloch-Brown, then its Vice-Chairman; and Richard Samans, its Managing Director. In its final report, titled “Everybody’s Business: Strengthening International Cooperation in a More Interdependent World,” the GRI proposed the creation of a system of multi-stakeholder governance as a partial replacement for intergovernmental decision-making.

That is essentially what the High-Level Advisory Board is also calling for: the replacement of multilateralism — the process of organising relations between the governments of multiple countries, ideally governed democratically, that has been the model of global governance for the past century — with the World Economic Forum’s model of “multi-stakeholder partnerships,” which would bring together the private sector, governments and civil society groups across all areas of global governance. As mentioned, this process has been in the works for decades, as the GRI project directors explained almost 15 years ago:

“While experimentation with individual public—private and multistakeholder partnerships has flourished over the past decade, including in many international organisations, they continue to play an incremental, even experimental, role in the international system rather than a systematic one. For this to change, policy-making processes and institutional structures themselves will need to be adapted and perhaps even fundamentally repositioned with this in mind.”

The WEF’s Main Stakeholder: Transnational Corporations

If enshrined in the UN’s rules and regulations at the UN Future Summit, the WEF’s multi-stakeholder model will grant corporations, many of them partly or even largely to blame for the major crises the world faces, even more power and influence over society, the economy and the environment, at the expense of national democratic institutions. It will mean even less democratic representation and accountability in the decisions taken by UN institutions. In the WEF’s vision — laid out in the GRI’s final report — the government voice “would be one among many without always being the final arbiter.”

It’s not hard to guess who that role will generally fall to. After all, the WEF represents some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential people and corporations. On its website, it has kindly laid out, in alphabetical order, all of its partners, strategic partners and associate partners. It reads like a Who’s Who of many of the world’s largest corporations and philanthro-capitalists, primarily (but not exclusively) from the US and Europe. A is for Apple, B is for Blackrock (or Blackstone Group), C for Citi, D for Deutsche Bank, E for Exxon Mobil, F for Foxconn, G for Glencore, etc.

In a 2016 article for the Transnational Institute, Harris Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Center for Governance and Sustainability and former chief of the NY Office of UNCTAD, distilled the three core elements of the WEF’s multi-stakeholder model of governance:

First, that multi-stakeholder structures do not mean equal roles for all stakeholders; second, that the corporation is at the centre of the process; and third, that the list of WEF’s multi-stakeholders is principally those with commercial ties to the company: customers, creditors, suppliers, collaborators, owners, and national economies. All the other potential stakeholders are grouped together as “government and society”. Note that [Klaus] Schwab says nothing about democracy in this approach to multi-stakeholder activities.

The WEF already plays a significant role in shaping global policy, in part through its Young Global Leaders Forum (2005-today) and its predecessor, the Global Leaders for Tomorrow program (1993-2003). These two programs have helped to create a transnational clique of would-be elitists, some of whom have gone on to fill very important roles in both the public and private spheres. It is almost the epitome of George Carlin’s “Big Club” that you and I ain’t in.

BusinessWeek‘s Bruce Nussbaum described the program as “the most exclusive private social network in the world”, while the WEF itself says the selected leaders represent “the voice for the future and the hopes of the next generation.”

Graduating from one of the two programs is presumably still a badge of honour within corporate and elitist circles, but it is one that is increasingly concealed from public view as scrutiny of the program grows. Today, it seems that as soon as an alum reaches a senior government position in the US or a major European country, their names are scrubbed from the WEF’s YGLs community page. The lists of participants in the WEF‘s Global Leaders for Tomorrow program are also no longer available on the WEF’s website, but have been preserved for posterity on the Wayback Machine (here’s the list for the inaugural class of ’93).

Combined, the WEF’s two apprenticeship programs have accumulated well over a thousand current members and alumni from the worlds of business, politics, science, culture and sport, including:

From the private sector: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Paul Allen (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Meta), Peter Thiel (Palantir), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Pierre Omidyar (eBay), Jack Ma (Alibaba Group), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Niklas Zennström (Skype), Ana Botín (Grupo Santander) Richard Branson (Virgin), Stéphane Bancel (Moderna) Elon Musk, Eric Schmidt (Google) and Larry Page (Google).

From the public sector (excuse the bullet points):

  • Former UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown,former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar, (all four from the inaugural class of ’93, years before they become national leaders; Angela Merkel was Germany’s Minister for Women and Youth);
  • Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers;
  • France’s former President Nicholas Sarkozy (also in the class of ’93) and its current President Emmanuel Macron;
  • Former European Commission Presidents Manuel Barroso and Jean Claude Juncker.
  • Thiery Breton, the former head of the European Commission’s vaccines task force who unveiled the first European “health passport” in March 2021. As EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, Breton also recently launched the EU’s highly controversial Digital Services Act, which sets the regulatory guardrails for a global digital censorship regime.
  • Guy Verhofstadt – former Prime Minster of Belgium 1999-2008, who then became a prominent Euro-politician.
  • Taoiseach of Ireland (both former and current) Leo Varadkar;
  • Alexander de Croo, the current prime minister of Belgium;
  • Jacinda Ardern, the former prime minister of New Zealand, who is now specialising in technology governance at Harvard;
  • Juan Guaidó (no introduction needed).
  • Anna Baerbock, Germany’s disastrous foreign minister.
  • Sanna Marin, the former prime minister of Finland and now a strategic counselor for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change
  • Mykhailo Fedorov, who until recently served as Ukraine’s deputy prime minister and minister of digital transformation;
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his deputy and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, who also sits on the WEF’s board of trustees;
  • Gavin Newsom, the governor of California who is widely tipped to enter the ring for next year’s presidential elections should Joe Biden fail to make it that far.
  • Other US politicians that have attended the YGLs program include Nikki Haley, Dan Crenshaw, Pete Buttigeig, Ivanka Trump, Samantha Power and Tulsi Gabbard. Both Gabbard and Crenshaw deny attending the program.

This is just a small sample of some of the more prominent figures that have passed through the program over the past 30 years. In 2017, WEF Founder Klaus Schwab hinted that even Russian President Vladimir Putin had attended the program, though that has not been fully confirmed. Speaking at an event organised by the Harvard Kennedy School of Governance, Schwab bragged that the WEF was “penetrat[ing] the cabinets” of governments around the world through its new generation of Young Global Leaders. He cited the example of Canada, where more than half of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet had participated in the program.

Happier times: in this picture from the 2007 G8 Summit George W Bush is flanked by three alumni of the Global Leaders of Tomorrow program (Blair, Barroso and Merkel) as well as a suspected alum (Putin). Another alum, Sarkozy, didn’t make it into the frame.

But it’s not just the cabinets of national governments that the WEF has been infiltrating. In November 2019, just three months before the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest, the Davos-based club pulled off the mother of all public-private partnerships when it signed a strategic partnership agreement with the UN.

The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which connects over 280 NGOs, social movements and advocates across more than 75 countries, warned that “the agreement gives transnational corporations preferential and deferential access to the UN system at the expense of States and public interest actors.” At the time, this development was barely reported upon but NC featured an interview by Lynn Fries of Harris Gleckman. A key excerpt:

LYNN FRIES: Civil society is calling the World Economic Forum-UN Agreement a corporate takeover of the UN.

HARRIS GLECKMAN: The UN Charter starts with the words “We the Peoples”. What the Secretary-General is doing through the Global Compact and now through the partnership with the World Economic Forum is tossing this out the window. He is saying: I’m going to align the organization with a particular structural relationship with multinationals, with multistakeholderism, and set aside attention to all the different peoples of the world in their particular interests of environment, health, water needs and really talk about how to govern the world with those who have a particular role in creating problems of wars from natural resources, of creating problems relating to climate, creating problems relating to food supply and technologies. That is undermining a core element of what the United Nations has been and should be for its next 75 years.

LYNN FRIES: It’s striking that the Agreement was signed as the UN is celebrating 100 years of multilateralism, the centenary year 1919 to 2019. And next year 2020 will mark the 1945 signing of the UN Charter 75th anniversary.

HARRIS GLECKMAN: Lynn, if I could give you an overview of what I’m concerned about the aspect of this about multistakeholderism is that the Secretary-General is the leading public figure for the multilateral system, the intergovernmental system. The World Economic Forum is the major proponent or one of the major proponents that a multi-stakeholder governance system should replace or marginalize the multilateral system. So the Secretary-General is taking steps to just jump on the bandwagon of multistakeholderism without a public debate about the democratic character of multistakeholderism, about a public debate about whether this is effectively able to solve problems, without a public debate about how stakeholders are selected to become global governors or even a public debate about what role the UN should have with any of these multistakeholder groups.

This lack of accountability or transparency is, as always, a feature, not a bug. In 2021, the WEF and the Office of the Secretary-General concluded a memorandum of understanding on the corporate sector’s involvement in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, which was never made publicly available by the UN nor submitted to the General Assembly.

A few months ago, Gleckman issued another warning, this time in an op-ed for Al Jazeera:

Instead of expanding access to the UN system to communities of people impacted by today’s crises, [UN Secretary Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s vision, as set out in his report to the General Assembly, Our Common Agenda) gives more influence and power to corporate actors who are most culpable of bringing us to the precipice of ecological and social disaster.

The secretary-general’s approach, called multistakeholder governance, would increase corporate influence over global governance, deepening the damaging consequences of prioritising ‘return on investment’ above social and ecological needs. In a multistakeholder world, corporate executives and other founders bring together a friendly group of civil society organisations, governments, academics, UN staff, and other non-state organisations to take on a global governance role.

This would marginalise over two-thirds of the nations of the UN. Instead, a new vision and institutional arrangement that focus on people and the planet should be at the heart of the Summit for the Future.

Instead, the UN, like the WHO, is pushing for increasingly authoritarian solutions such as digital identity, modelled on Ukraine’s State in a Smartphone model of digital governance, and online censorship, which are precisely the sorts of things the WEF has been calling for in its Great Reset and Fourth Industrial Revolution. The only thing potentially standing in the way of the WEF’s takeover of the UN, it seems, is opposition from the G77 group of “Global South” countries. Long may it stay firm!


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    1. JonnyJames

      Yeah, that’s pretty much it: the US delegation represent the interests of the US oligarchy,: MIC/BigOil/BigFinance/BigTech/Pharma/Ag…

    1. Synoia

      Because rendering a digital twin of Gaza…Surely the Israelis would pull the plug, calling the digital twin Anti-Semitic.

  1. Dissident Daydreamer

    Wow. I thought Putin’s green light for genocide in Gaza was depressing. This is the end of hope. Dystopia is now.

    On to Links. I hope the antidotes are good.

    PS Wot no Starmer?

    1. Yves Smith

      What do you think Putin could do? He’s not some sort of Lord of the Rings figure with magic powers.

      None of the neighbors except the Houthis are mixing it up. As Douglas Macgregor has said, it is Turkiye that has the military and physical position in the region to stop Israel and they aren’t. If Turkiye were to Do Something and ask for Russia to protect their backs, Putin would be put in a very awkward position. He would probably offer some level of support. But Turkiye is all hat, no cattle. In fairness, too economically unstable to hold up under the sanctions that they’d be hit with.

      1. paul m whalen

        I’m reasonably certain all of the states within striking distance of Israel have been told that the Israeli’s are perfectly willing to retaliate with nuclear weapons.

        1. NYMutza

          I think the Israeli government knows that their use of nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear state will be the end of the Jewish state. Threats to do so are bluffs.

            1. JBird4049

              The Samson doctrine as with MAD or mutually assured destruction seems to be a form of suicide. I do not think that they are bluffing, but, If they use nukes, what prevents anyone else from using everything else?

              It seems to me that like the current American regime, the current Israeli one is demanding to get everything that they want and threatening to hurt, even murder, anyone who does not acquiesce to them; they do this without accepting the costs that they themselves would have to pay. This feeling, even belief, in their invulnerability is going to get Israel killed.

              1. Candide

                Years ago there was an award, possibly at the Nobel economics level, for game theory in which the winning strategy was that of the crazy maximalist willing to risk everyone’s wellbeing for immediate goals.
                It helped me understand who’s on the awards board and who isn’t.
                Does anyone else remember such an honor bestowed?

      2. Dissident Dreamer

        Here’s what I was hoping.

        150 votes for ceasefire in the UNGA this afternoon.
        Those countries get together to form a Coalition of the unwilling to watch genocide.
        They get together a massive humanitarian mission on multiple container ships and sail to the Med and demand entry.
        If not given within a week or two they start coordinated diplomatic action from calling in ambassadors escalating to cutting diplomatic ties and then trade.
        They commit to rebuilding Gaza and facilitating elections forPalestine. Hamas would I’m sure agree to a ceasefire under these conditions.
        They set up a conference for a one or two state solution.
        Pressure. Russia and China would have to be involved and would show themselves to be the real world leaders.
        Israel is now beyond being a rogue state. Something has to be done.
        Ok, you may say I’m a dreamer. Am I the only one?
        PS I love you NC. I’ve been lurking for maybe a year and you’re a big and important part of my day.

        1. Candide

          Love the proposal!
          This is a reminder that without economic consequences
          the motivation to honor human rights is mere fantasy.

      3. ChrisFromGA

        Turkey seems to hold the most power, but as our host pointed out, they aren’t doing anything other than “tawk.”

        And to respond to Dissident, if we’re going to blame Putin, why not include Xi?

        (Not suggesting military action, but a Chinese boycott on all exports to Israel might grab attention? It wouldn’t hurt the Palestinians, at least.)

        1. Dissident Dreamer

          I blamed Putin because of the preceding Helmer article particularly this bit:

          “Instead, Putin gave the Israeli his personal assurance there will be no Russian participation in a Gaza blockade-busting plan to deliver humanitarian aid to the Palestinians by sea, or across the Egyptian land border. Nor will the Russian military intervene to threaten Israeli aircraft if they commence bombing Beirut and southern Lebanese targets in the war against Hezbollah.“

          I’m still hoping China will step up, not militarily but by standing by all the other weaker countries that could be victimised by the US if they put their heads above the parapet.

          I do agree with Ives that there may be an element of don’t interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake but I think there’s not much further for the US reputation to sink without massive publicity showing just how depraved theUS/Israel position is.

          The killing has to stop.

          1. Yves Smith

            There was not any evidence this plan was even remotely getting off the ground regardless of Putin. Erdogan has more than enough of an air force and could have done it with 500 ships. I didn’t see a single NGO say it was providing vessels or supplies. I too am disappointed but there was no evidence that Erdogan did anything serious to move his plan forward. If he had gotten >300 ships and some big name NGOs, that would have been serious and put Putin on the spot. But I have seen nothing to suggest Turkiye took serious steps forward.

            1. Dissident Daydreamer

              I wasn’t actually thinking of Erdogan just 150 countries, 2/3 of the world’s population assuming India abstains, thinking now what do we do?

              I guess I know it’s just hopium/copium and that in five years time there’ll be no Palestine and the only reason people will remember there ever was is the occasional suicide bombing.

              1. Yves Smith

                I agree it is super upsetting and pathetic that all various countries seem willing to do to oppose Israel’s actions is UN resolutions and public denunciations. Talk is cheap and Israel has a small economy. What about embargoes? Encouraging investors to sell Israel stocks and its currency a la the South Africa boycotts? Protests in the US and EU designed to mess with commerce, like car and trucks “stalling” on key arteries as rush hour Best if they are drained of gas or electricity as the case may be so they legitimately have to be towed? There must be ways to increase the cost of inaction.

                Israel is relying on being able to continue through the Christmas holiday, when many people tune out of media, and into at least the first week of the new year. By then, between infrastructure destruction, shelling deaths, disease, dehydration and starvation, I would hazard more than half the Gazans will die. The rest will be largely in terrible shape and set to die in a month or two if they do not get their weight restored and ailments treated which is na ga happen. Israel does not need much more time to create a greatly accelerating death toll.

                1. Dissident Daydreamer

                  So govts representing maybe 7% of the world’s population vote no and nothing changes….

                  Thanks for talking to me Yves (got your mane right this time).

                  I hope you’re better soon.

                  1. JW

                    The bully wields the biggest stick, and no-one else can afford to build as big a stick. Yet. If de-dollarisation proceeds , in time, the bully’s stick will get smaller, but heaven help the RoW when that becomes obviously the case to the bully.

          2. JonnyJames

            Not only does Israel have the so-called Samson Option, (as well as the Hannibal Directive the US is basically using a similar policy: Nuclear First Strike doctrine as well as the so-called Wolfowitz Doctrine

            So, we better be careful what we wish for. If Turkey/Russia/China or anyone else gets in the way of US/Israel, the madman with the finger on the nuclear trigger might go off.

            Is the Global Majority willing to play a game of nuclear “chicken” with a bunch of bloody nutters?

            1. JW

              As multipolarity proceeds the risk grows. Our only safe future is if somehow the ‘nutters’ get deposed.

  2. JonnyJames

    The UN privatization, mostly by US and vasals’ oligarchies comes as no surprise- the list of names is pretty telling. I noticed Gavin Newsom’s name there as well.

    The UN is an intergovernmental organization: it has no power unless nations agree, and the UNSC agrees. The UN is used by the great powers, especially the US, to further their policies, Haiti is a glaring example.

    However, the west is becoming privatized and the UN is as well. The “public-private partnerships” and NGOs are another great way to steal public resources, while hiding behind the “UN” as some sort of force for the good. The public increasingly have no say in domestic or international policy. Democracy has been reduced to a PR slogan. So, we can see the parallels in privatization and oligarchy in nation-states and on the UN level as well.

    The US is an oligarchy, the UN is largely controlled by the US oligarchy and the oligarchies in vassal-states.

    The UN reflects a deeply unbalanced, anachronistic, and unfair power structure, it should be abolished or radically reformed. Any permanent member of the UNSC can simply veto any UN resolution or action, as the US has done dozens of times to protect Israel. The UNSC frequently defies the will of the vast Global Majority.

    As the article suggests: the Global Majority should abandon the UN and form their own intergovernmental forum or other organization.

    1. JW

      I think that is what some believe BRICS+ could develop into. We would then have an increasingly divided world. Unfortunately its looking like Eric Blair produced a blueprint rather than a novel.

  3. Divadab

    Where are the spiritual and religious leaders in this effort to transcend nationalism? All I see are high-achieving sociopaths talking their own book while they fleece the herd. The corruption of international institutions continues apace. Very disappointing, worrying really.

      1. Divadab

        Very interesting-the WEF’s articles on religious issues. Sort of an academic exercise, imho, as none of the wef’s leaders, old and young, are spiritual or religious leaders – nor do they show much evidence of faith or a spiritual viewpoint, which was my point. The real movers of the wef rather appear to me to be devotees of mammon. Honestly these people seem to me to be part of the problem while claiming to be the opposite. Left brainers in a world civilization badly in need of right brainers.

  4. MFB

    The language of the UN/WEF is, essentially, what we’ve been hearing in South Africa ever since the 2008 coup overthrew Mbeki. A partnership between the private sector (the oligarchs) and the NGO sector (which is owned by the oligarchs) and the government (which is owned by the oligarchs). If you look at South Africa’s socio-economic record since 2008 you can see how it turns out.

    It seems that the WEF has a very clear plan for seizing power, like the corporate forces which backed our Zuma and Ramaphosa regimes, but has no idea what to do with that power once they get it, except steal as much as possible behind a smokescreen generated by the media (which is owned by the oligarchs). It’s like going back to primitive accumulation, except that there are no neighbouring worlds which we can loot after this one burns out.

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