Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Speaking to power

There are occasions when it makes sense to be on the inside, when it makes sense to suit up and reach out to the captains of industry for some straight talk or, as we would say in Greenpeace, “direct communication”. After all, there are occasions when we go to great lengths — often involving a very long rope indeed — to get our message heard by company directors.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos over the past few days I have had meetings with no fewer than 15 chief executives of major corporations, men (they were all men) whose decisions help shape our environment and affect workers’ rights and ultimately what kind of world we pass on to our children and grandchildren.

One example among many serves to highlight the value of showing up. The first was a breakfast briefing with Unilever and about 150 of its customers. It was an opportunity to raise awareness of the impact of the company’s sourcing policies, to talk about the impact of palm oil plantations on rainforests in Indonesia, on wildlife, the small farmers and the indigenous peoples who are often cleared with the forest.

I was invited by the chief executive, who in offering me a chance to address the audience, spoke of the curious relationship his company enjoys with Greenpeace.

He spoke of our debate about the need to protect the forests and of the time last year when Greenpeace activists descended from the roof of Nestlé’s annual general meeting to press home the point about palm oil and rainforest destruction.

Davos is not exactly a revival meeting for the socially or ecologically aware, but there are many who are beginning to realise that social and ecological bottom lines are directly linked to their companies’ bottom line. They know that more and more consumers are looking at the true cost of products and voting with their pockets to demand clean production and respect for the rights of workers and local people.

For me, Davos is a key opportunity to speak truth directly to power and to stress what connects us rather than what divides us. It is a chance to make a direct appeal to the captains of industry as parents, grandparents, and fellow citizens on this finite, fragile planet of ours.
Kumi Naidoo is executive director of Greenpeace International.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Kumi Naidoo
Kumi Naidoo is the Global Ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity. He was previously the Secretary General of Amnesty International and the International Executive Director of Greenpeace.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

R270m ‘housing heist’ bid deprives people of decent homes

After alleged attempts to loot Eastern Cape housing funds, 39 200 people in the province will continue to live in atrocious conditions

Cabinet reshuffle not on cards yet

There are calls for the president to act against ministers said to be responsible for the state’s slow response to the unrest, but his hands are tied

More top stories

R270m ‘housing heist’ bid deprives people of decent homes

After alleged attempts to loot Eastern Cape housing funds, 39 200 people in the province will continue to live in atrocious conditions

Stolen ammo poses security threat amid failure to protect high-risk...

A Durban depot container with 1.5-million rounds of ammunition may have been targeted, as others in the vicinity were left untouched, say security sources

Sierra Leoneans want a share of mining profits, or they...

The arrival of a Chinese gold mining company in Kono, a diamond-rich district in the east of Sierra Leone, had a devastating impact on the local community, cutting its water supply and threatening farmers’ livelihoods – and their attempts to seek justice have been frustrated at every turn

IEC to ask the courts to postpone local elections

The chairperson of the Electoral Commission of South Africa said the Moseneke inquiry found that the elections would not be free and fair if held in October

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…