What's Worthwhile in Davos

01/27/2007 09:21 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Davos is a circus of the rich and powerful. Standing by the juice bar is Sneh, the Deputy Minister of Defence of Israel, and chief negotiator with the Palestinian Authority. He immediately recognises me from our meeting in Tel Aviv last December, and comes forward, introducing me to his companion as "the Head of Amnesty International who gives us a hard time but not always without reason."

I see, just meters away, the former foreign minister of a Middle Eastern country, who commends me for AI's campaign to Stop Violence against Women. "Why don't you come to my country?" he says, "Come and talk about women's issues - that's a safe topic".

Yesterday, just as the Prime Minister of Pakistan was leaving the podium after a session, I walked up to him and asked for a meeting. Shortly after, we were sitting together drinking cappuccino. From a distance it would have looked a nice social encounter, but in reality it was hard talk about AI's recent report on the way in which the Pakistani officials have succumbed to US pressure to secretly arrest and detain over hundreds of people, many of whom are still missing.

Politicians are used to talking about human rights with NGOs. For companies it is much harder. I am invited to a closed meeting with a dozen CEOs of some of the world's largest companies. The talk is tough on both sides and frank. At the end of it both sides recognise that business cannot ignore human rights problems. There is not only a moral case but also a business case for human rights. Business cannot be sustained without respect for human rights, both in the operations directly run by a company, as well as in the community in which the company operates. Some of the CEOs agree that we need to talk more about the dilemmas of operating in some of the poorest, conflict ridden parts of the world. From other experiences like the Kimberly Process (for diamonds) I realise it's going to be a long-haul but in my business I cannot give up.

The most memorable experience of the day however isn't about the rich and powerful inside the Congress Hall. Walking back that evening after dinner, my colleague and I see about twenty young Swiss people blocking the traffic, with about as many police milling around them. Our Amnesty instincts take over and off we go to investigate any potential abuse of power! A young man comes up to me and asks me if I'm the Head of Amnesty International, and can he photograph me with his friends (the Swiss police provide an interesting background) because he is a great admirer of what we in AI do.

The truth is that while politicians and business leaders argue about the value of human rights, ordinary people know that human rights matter.