Report says workers exploited to ensure steady supply of cheap goods that make billionaires wealthier.
In its report ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth,’ Oxfam says billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762 billion US last year. The confederation of charitable organizations says this increase could have ended global, extreme poverty seven times over. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)
A CEO from one of the world’s top five global fashion brands has to work for just four days to earn what a garment worker in Bangladesh will earn in an entire lifetime, campaigning group Oxfam International said Monday.
Leading up to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, Oxfam has sought to put inequality at the heart of this week’s deliberations of the rich and powerful.
“The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s executive director.
“The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods, and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors.”
In its report “Reward Work, Not Wealth,” Oxfam says 82 per cent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one per cent of the global population, while the poorest half — 3.7 billion people — saw no increase in their wealth.
Billionaire wealth, it added, has risen by an annual average of 13 per cent since 2010, over six times more than the wages of average workers, and the number of billionaires rose at an astonishing rate of one every two days in the year to March 2017.
Push for minimum ‘living wage’
Oxfam listed a series of actions that government should take, including:
- Limiting returns to shareholders and top executives.
- Ensuring workers receive a minimum “living wage.”
- Pushing through policies to eliminate the gender pay gap and protect the rights of women workers.
It also urged a clampdown on tax avoidance and other associated practices, which have been highlighted by the recent publication of the “Panama Papers” and the “Paradise Papers.”
Oxfam, which has sought for several years sought to highlight the problem of inequality on the eve of the World Economic Forum, said that without action, the populist and nationalist tides around the world will only become more acute.
“We’ve seen a shift in narrative in terms of what people say, but we haven’t seen action to match those words,” said Nick Bryer, Oxfam’s Davos campaign manager.
Governments, he said, need to “get back into the driving seat” and challenge the big corporations and the billionaires.
“There’s plenty they can do,” he said.
While conceding that the efforts of Oxfam and other civil society groups have yet to force substantive change among governments, Bryer said it’s important that they carry on delivering the message to the rich and powerful at events like the World Economic Forum, a gathering that’s perceived by many as solely serving the needs of the global elite.
“People are realizing that shocks are fuelled by inequalities,” he said.
Oxfam’s findings are based on the annual Global Wealth Databook of Swiss bank Credit Suisse, and Forbes’s billionaire ranking series .
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