I’ve attended two of the Open Forum
sessions, held in a local high school and open to all members of the
public. The hall has been packed. In fact, I tried to attend another
one about the U.S. role in the world, but it was so full by the time I
got there they had stopped letting people in.

At this evening’s session titled Shareholders and Consumers: What Power Do You Hold?,
corporate executives and consumer activists on the panel agreed about
one thing: the relentless pressure from the stockmarkets on
corporations to meet quarterly earnings projections is a
disincentive for environmentally and socially responsible corporate
behavior. The executives pointed out that market pressures on listed
companies can also discourage strategies that make a great deal
of long-term business sense, but which are not great for earnings in the short term. All
agreed that consumers and shareholders can do a lot to  change the
situation if they get more organized. Interestingly, the executives –
Orin Smith of Starbucks and Claude Hauser of Switzerland’s Migros –
both agreed this would be a good thing. Corporations would be happy to
change if consumers would do more to reward good behavoir – even if it
means paying slightly higher prices because the workers who made or
harvested a product were paid a fair wage and worked under humane
conditions.

A member of the audience proposed that the WEF should develop
concrete proposals for alternative corporate practices and perhaps financial market reforms that would do
more to reward long-term profits as opposed to
short-term earnings.

Unfortunately, not many acutal WEF participants attended the Open Forum meetings I went to. That said, it does appear that many of the executives and entrepreneurs at Davos this year recognize that capitalism and globalization will come under increasing political attack unless  capitalism’s fruits can be spread more equitably, responsibly, and sustainably. But it’s also clear that the journey from recognition to realization is not easy.