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

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

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


Subscribers only

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

More top stories

Zuma, Zondo play the waiting game

The former president says he will talk once the courts have ruled, but the head of the state capture inquiry appears resigned to letting the clock run out as the commission's deadline nears

Disinformation harms health and democracy

Conspiracy theorists abuse emotive topics to suck the air out of legitimate debate and further their own sinister agendas

Uganda: ‘I have never seen this much tear-gas in an...

Counting was slow across Uganda as a result of the internet shutdown, which affected some of the biometric machines used to validate voter registrations.

No way out for Thales in arms deal case, court...

The arms manufacturer has argued that there was no evidence to show that it was aware of hundreds of indirect payments to Jacob Zuma, but the court was not convinced.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…