Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships Are Public-Private Partnerships on the Global Stage
"The magic words are ‘stakeholder capitalism’, a concept that WEF chairman Klaus Schwab has been hammering for decades and which occupies pride of place in the WEF’s Great Reset plan from June 2020. The idea is that global capitalism should be transformed so that corporations no longer focus solely on serving shareholders but become custodians of society by creating value for customers, suppliers, employees, communities and other ‘stakeholders’. The way the WEF sees stakeholder capitalism being carried out is through a range of ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships’ bringing together the private sector, governments and civil society across all areas of global governance.
The idea of stakeholder capitalism and multi-stakeholder partnerships might sound warm and fuzzy, until we dig deeper and realise that this actually means giving corporations more power over society, and democratic institutions less.
The plan from which the Great Reset originated was called the Global Redesign Initiative. Drafted by the WEF after the 2008 economic crisis, the initiative contains a 600-page report on transforming global governance. In the WEF’s vision, “the government voice would be one among many, without always being the final arbiter.” Governments would be just one stakeholder in a multi-stakeholder model of global governance. Harris Gleckman, senior fellow at the University of Massachusetts, describes the report as “the most comprehensive proposal for re-designing global governance since the formulation of the United Nations during World War II.”
Who are these other, non-governmental stakeholders? The WEF, best known for its annual meeting of high-net-worth individuals in Davos, Switzerland, describes itself as an international organization for public-private cooperation. WEF partners include some of the biggest companies in oil (Saudi Aramco, Shell, Chevron, BP), food (Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé), technology (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple) and pharmaceuticals (AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna).
Instead of corporations serving many stakeholders, in the multi-stakeholder model of global governance, corporations are promoted to being official stakeholders in global decision-making, while governments are relegated to being one of many stakeholders. In practice, corporations become the main stakeholders, while governments take a backseat role, and civil society is mainly window dressing.
The multi-stakeholder ecosystem
Perhaps the most symbolic example of this shift is the controversial strategic partnership agreement the United Nations (UN) signed with the WEF in 2019. Harris Gleckman describes this as a move to turn the UN into a public-private partnership, creating a special place for corporations inside the UN.
The multi-stakeholder model is already being built. In recent years, an ever-expanding ecosystem of multi-stakeholder groups has spread across all sectors of the global governance system. There are now more than 45 global multi-stakeholder groups that set standards and establish guidelines and rules in a range of areas. According to Gleckman, these groups, which lack any democratic accountability, consist of private stakeholders (big corporations) who “recruit their friends in government, civil society and universities to join them in solving public problems”.
Multi-stakeholderism is the WEF’s update of multilateralism, which is the current system through which countries work together to achieve common goals. The multilateral system’s core institution is the UN. The multilateral system is often rightly accused of being ineffective, too bureaucratic and skewed towards the most powerful nations. But it is at least theoretically democratic because it brings together democratically elected leaders of countries to make decisions in the global arena. Instead of reforming the multilateral system to deepen democracy, the WEF’s vision of multi-stakeholder governance entails further removing democracy by sidelining governments and putting unelected ‘stakeholders’ – mainly corporations – in their place when it comes to global decision-making.
Put bluntly, multi-stakeholder partnerships are public-private partnerships on the global stage. And they have real-world implications for the way our food systems are organized, how big tech is governed and how our vaccines and medicines are distributed."