Davos 2014 and Justice

The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos has many layers. Business leaders meet and do deals and forge partnerships. High potential start-ups use Davos to pitch. Members of governments come to support the deal making.

The President of Mongolia worked hard to bring business to his country. Another layer is pure politics. “We even met the Iranians.”, said one ambassador to me, very pleased. The do-good layer is the one in which I move. The WEF has built a formidable network of doers and thinkers around big global issues such as the environment, governance, health, and youth unemployment with its Global Agenda Councils. Each Council has around 10-12 leaders in their field and they are expected to provided thought leadership, start initiatives, build projects. Slowly, a remarkable, global, networked think-tank is being created.

As Chair of the Global Agenda Council on the Rule of Law it’s obvious what my focus is. Rule of law and justice do not feature prominently on the Davos agenda. A big push comes from the young generation: the WEF Young Global Shapers community. These are remarkable under 30 year olds that have successfully set up NGOs, businesses and things-in-the-middle, that make a difference. An impressive example is Rodrigo Diamante, a brave young Venezuelan, who already has 10 years under his belt as human rights defender in Venezuela, where human rights and rule of law have been abolished. His organisation continues to deal with disappearances and unlawful arrests, against many odds. He uses his time at Davos to forge networks and to wake people up the plight of his country. There are many more examples like him.

My justice take-ways from Davos 2014 relate to five areas: the rules of globalisation, governance architecture, privacy, IT and big data, and investment.


For business, the main rule of law gripe is the ‘absence of a level playing field’. I rarely hear the word ‘citizens’. Rules are not the same everywhere and that is bad for business: it affects efficiency and creates costs. An interesting observation by a Chinese panellist: “Globalisation is like riding a bike; when you stop, you fall. We must not fall.” I did not hear much about the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. What did become clear is that where there was once a single globalisation scenario – upwards and onwards – there are now more. Globalisation could fragment, become regional, and even get cemented into trade blocks. I heard a gloom scenario in which the Internet would become a national or regional affair, with borders and passports. There are real concerns within business that globalisation has failed to deliver the right long term investment, with too much of an emphasis on short-term profits. Fair and legitimate rules, which govern globalisation might be needed, but: “level playing field!”. A rare, clear voice for citizens is Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Within all the serious human rights concerns she has, she did make an important point: “Why does the whole world grieve when Mandela died? It’s because he stood for universal values. People saw that. These values are in the open now, and can be invoked.”


Privacy was another much talked-about justice issue. Brad Smith, the General Council of Microsoft announced that his company was going to give consumers a choice in where they want their data stored. He also stated very publicly that Microsoft does not give data to governments unless forced to do so under rule of law. It is obvious that business feels very uncomfortable about the way in which governments now appear to be acting. “We’ve moved back!”, one person remarked, “We used to be afraid for hackers and terrorists; now we need to guard against governments. And the country that always proclaimed freedom seems to be the biggest abuser!” Salil Shetty, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, remarked: “this will be one of the defining issues of our time.”


“We’re heading for a full blown crisis of legitimacy”, said Don Tabscott during one lunch. Much work is being within the Global Agenda Council community on new modes of governance, more fitting to meet the complex challenges of the day and the changing demands of citizens. Interesting work is being done to use complexity theory, design theory, and big data to better understand governance needs and to develop new ways of doing things from there. Don Tabscott is looking at how government can be innovated and sees four aspects of a governance model: (1) Government as a platform; (2) From “you vote, I rule” to ongoing citizen engagement; (3) Radical transparency and (4) Government as a conductor of open, multi-stakeholder networks. All this thinking will also result in new ways of using rule of law as a foundation for that new governance. It has only just begun.

IT and big data

Another trend is the impact that big data (well used, in accordance with rule of law and human rights principles) and technology is starting to have on justice systems. Big data can give remarkable insights into behaviour, spotting trends in human behaviour so you can take anticipatory action. In their ground-breaking book Nudge, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler show how what we have learned about human behaviour requires a re-think of whether we always need a ‘law’ and an ‘enforcement mechanism’ to influence human behaviour. We also see the emergence of all kinds of online collaboration tools – some of them quite successful (for example: www.ushahidi.com; winner Innovating Justice Award 2013). This will affect rules we have on rule making. We also see the emergence of online dispute resolution platforms. In the Netherlands, HiiL helped develop an online platform to deal with neighbour disputes. There are many more examples. What will that do to courts, the monopoly of the state on courts (the E-bay online dispute resolution platform that deals with millions of disputes a year can make one wonder why states have consumer courts), rules of procedure, the work of lawyers? There is huge potential to redesign legal systems to make them more agile, more affordable, and more citizen-based. Are we heading for disruptive innovation?


I worked hard on further building our network of justice innovators and on our plans to set up a mechanism to connect them to funding. This is where the WEF is at its best: providing bridges between worlds, in my case, investors and do-gooders. Justice impact investment is coming and HiiL will lead the charge. Justice delivery does not only have to come from taxpayers money.

It was another amazing Annual Meeting. Much praise to the team that made it happen.