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Sep 28, 2017

World’s silliest neoliberal poll champions brutal regimes

The neoliberal World Economic Forum is back with its annual lauding of some of the worst industrial relations laws in the world.

While serious institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank actually attempt to grapple with the real-world consequences of neoliberalism, the Davos, Switzerland-based “World Economic Forum”, funded by the world’s biggest companies (including many of the world’s biggest tax dodgers), continues its work as the global propaganda arm of free-market economics. Its annual “Global Competitiveness Index” is one of the primary mechanisms for promoting corporate tax cuts and labour market deregulation around the world: WEF issues its index, and gullible journalists and clever employer groups like the Australian Industry Group either use the results to deplore the loss of competitiveness of their country and urge more reforms, or welcome the results as a demonstration of the benefits of undertaking reform, and urge more of it.

As Crikey has long been pointing out, the index, which is based on a survey of a few dozen business executives in each country, is laughably unrigorous and reflects exactly the kind of biases you’d expect if you asked some execs what they thought over a few wines in an airport lounge. And so it is with this year’s index, released overnight, showing Switzerland yet again the world’s most competitive country (because the WEF is Swiss, the Swiss must always come first).

But while this is good for a giggle, there’s a dark side to it: as part of its industrial relations agenda, the WEF actively endorses countries that are associated with slavery and the worst forms of labour abuse. As we’ve noted previously, the WEF loves the oil sheikhdoms of the Middle East, and this year is no different, with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar both in the top 25 (Australia came 21st).  Drill down into the results, though, and you start to see why the WEF loves the oil theocracies. On “labor market efficiency”, the WEF ranks both the UAE and Qatar well above Australia; they particularly rank well on “flexibility”, where Australian business executives rank Australia 80th. That is, despite Australian workers enduring years of wage stagnation, industrial disputes falling to historic lows, productivity growing strongly and both the Productivity Commission and the Reserve Bank lauding the flexibility of our industrial relations system, Australian business says we’re among the worst in the world.

But we digress.

There’s a reason that Qatar (eighth in the world) and the UAE (4th in the world) and other oil sheikhdoms perform so well on industrial relations flexibility: because they use slavery. Last year Qatar was warned by the UN to abandon its practice of using forced migrant labour to build facilities for the 2022 soccer world cup. It is estimated the country has over 30,000 workers in slavery. The UAE has long been known for forcing workers to work in what have been termed “prison-like conditions”. The predominantly African and Asian female domestic workforce in the UAE is the subject of frightening abuse and mistreatment and has virtually no rights of any kind. The Gulf states are a hellhole for any worker from a developing country desperate enough to take a job there: they find themselves trapped with their passports taken, forced to work for little or no pay, with no access to basic health services, and no legal rights. This is what the WEF’s publication is promoting and endorsing with its ratings.

And speaking of that Qatar world cup: that bid was won with extraordinary levels of bribery, which have been covered up by the world’s most corrupt sporting body, FIFA. But guess where Qatar comes on the “ethics and corruption” category? Fifth in the world, eleven spots ahead of Australia. According to Transparency International, Qatar actually ranks way down at 31st on its corruption index; the UAE comes third on the WEF’s “ethics and corruption” index but 24th on that of the body that actually takes corruption seriously. But then it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on in that category — the WEF ranks Rwanda ahead of Australia on corruption, despite the Rwandans coming 50th for Transparency International. In fact, in 2014 a Transparency International official was murdered in Rwanda. Still, presumably the WEF knows better.

It’d be easier to take this nonsense seriously if the WEF renamed itself to reflect its agenda more accurately. Something like the World Crony Capitalism and Slavery Forum would be apt. Probably wouldn’t get as many celebs to Davos every year though.

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8 thoughts on “World’s silliest neoliberal poll champions brutal regimes

  1. old greybearded one

    Perhaps the WEF were talking about NSW in terms of corruption and lack of transparency.

  2. Dog's Breakfast

    That is just so depressing. So much money being represented by such toss-pots, when was it ever different.

    I suspect that the WWF has more credibility than the WEF, certainly does with me.

    1. Wayne Cusick

      Do you mean World Wildlife Fund/World Wide Fund for Nature or World Wrestling Federation, which is now World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)?

  3. brian larcom

    I might subscribe if all articles were this good. However, I would like to point out that countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan, which provide many consumer goods for Australia. We also exploit cheap labour in Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. We enjoy a higher standard of living at the expense of a lot of people. That is something we can change, if we want. Get in touch with your local member and insist they support the Modern Slavery Act.

    1. AR

      I haven’t noticed many ‘Made in Uzbekistan’ stickers in my local megamart.

  4. Will

    The problem’s either neoliberalism, or it’s crony capitalism. It can’t be both, because they’re alternative (contradictory) explanations for the problem. Either capitalism’s been hijacked by rent-seekers, other criminals and their political cronies, and it can be saved; or it’s, you know, cannibalism. Take you pick.

    1. AR

      I would have thought that they dovetailed/spooned purrrfectly. If only there were a vaccine but, in the meantime, we’ll have to rely upon an intelligent, well informed & highly motivated electorate.
      …oh, oh…

      1. Will

        The accusative ‘crony’ capitalism implies an ailment open to cure. Purge the crony, and healthy capitalism will be free to prosper. BK wants ‘neoliberal’ capitalism to be viewed no differently. That fever has passed, he claims, and robust capitalism can now resume. He is, after all, our new self-appointed doctor. You often accused him of backsliding on his critique of neoliberalism, and yet say here these critiques spoon perfectly. Has it ever occurred to you it might be your own sort of spoon he’s sliding on?

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