Photograph — EURACTIV

Oxfam International published a report on inequality on Monday, as the world’s richest and most influential plan to meet tomorrow at Davos, Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum. The new report titled “Reward work, not wealth” says inequality is on the rise; the richest 1 percent hold about 82 percent of the wealth created in 2017. 3.7 billion people, who represent the poorest people in the world have the same amount of wealth as the 42 richest people. The report also says it would take a rather long time for gender pay gap to be closed.

According to the report, there was a big increase in the number of billionaires around the world last year, more than at any other time in history. One billionaire was added every two days, with billionaires seeing their wealth increase by $762 billion. That number would end extreme poverty 7 times over. Also, the pay gap between ordinary workers and the wealthy have increased drastically in the past decade. Ordinary workers have seen their wages increase annually by only 2 percent in the last decade, while the wealthy have had an average pay increase of 13 percent per year.

The report attributes this high level of inequality gap to the discrimination by large corporations and rich individuals, the prominent attendees of the World Economic Forum. “They use their power and influence to ensure government policy works in their interests. And big business is ruthlessly focused on maximizing returns to their shareholders by any means – whether that’s driving down wages or dodging taxes” the report says.

In South Africa, it takes 4.58 days for the best-paid executive at Shoprite to earn what a temporary farm worker at a vineyard in Cape Town will earn in their lifetime (presumably 50 years), according to Isaac Mangena, Senior Media and Communications head of Oxfam South Africa. Shoprite Group is Africa’s biggest supermarket chain with branches across Southern Africa, and other parts of Africa, like in Nigeria and Ghana. The top 10 percent executives in South Africa also receive half of all the income, while the lowest 50 percent of the workforce share only 12 percent of all wages.

Perhaps, the largest unequal pay gap is the gender pay gap. The pay gap between men and women globally is 23 percent; with the highest pay concentrated with the men, while women’s participation in labour was more concentrated in the lowest paying and least secure forms of work. At the present rate, it would take 217 years for pay to be even between both genders.

Having a job does not mean you’ve escaped poverty, it just means you are not living in extreme poverty. About 56 percent of the world’s population live in this ‘bubble’, between $2 and $10 per day.

Nigeria’s rising poverty profile

For Nigeria, the story is the same, probably worse. Aliko Dangote was named Forbes’ richest African for the seventh consecutive year two weeks ago. However, his wealth, combined with the remaining four that make up Nigeria’s top 5 richest can end extreme poverty in the country.

Nigeria will, in February, overtake India as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty, despite being one of the wealthiest nations in Africa. The solution to this, according to Oxfam, is a review of Nigeria’s minimum wage policy. “For example, in Nigeria, the legal minimum wage would need to be tripled to ensure decent living standards. This is the country where the richest man earns enough interest on his wealth in one year to lift two million people out of extreme poverty,” a media release said.

The World Economic Forum

As the world’s richest people and most influential gather this year in Davos for the World Economic Forum (January 23-26), issues like inequality and the wide pay gap should be discussed. The theme for this year’s WEF is “Creating a shared future in a fractured world” and is also going to address 7 key issues: Class Privilege, Immigration, Harassment, Religion, Mental Health, Race, LGBTQ Identity and Disability. They are all worthy causes, but none could address the widening gap between the rich and the poor, because, to be candid, the ‘Davos man’ is out of touch with developing countries, where the greater number of extremely poor people are concentrated.

As usual, it will feature captains of industry, businessmen and many important people who will be more concerned with networking and improving their businesses, than improving the plight of the poor in the countries they come from, with no feature from the actual people who are working behind the scenes to reduce this massive inequality. Publishing the Oxfam report is good, but the WEF as it is is not the solution to it. A conference that celebrates better relationships between the corporations and rich individuals that perpetuate the inequality and poverty rampant globally, with the help of corrupt governments, is not representative of the most important people, the employees who do the actual work.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam international says people are tired and want a change to the status quo. “It is hard to find a political or business leader who doesn’t say they are worried about inequality. It’s even harder to find one who is doing something about it…,” she said. “People across the globe are ready for change. They want to see workers paid a decent living wage; they want corporations and the super-rich to pay more tax; they want women workers to enjoy the same rights as men; they want a limit on the power and the wealth which sits in the hands of so few. They want action.”

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