File picture: Philimon Bulawayo
File picture: Philimon Bulawayo

JOHANNESBURG - Inequality will be under the spotlight at this week's annual World Economic Forum, with a new Oxfam report showing that 82 percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population.

The report, entitled "Reward Work, Not Wealth" and launched before the start of the WEF in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday, says the global economy enables a wealthy elite to accumulate vast fortunes while hundreds of millions of people survive on "poverty pay".

"The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system," Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima said.

"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."

Oxfam is an international confederation of charitable organizations focused on alleviating global poverty.

Its report said female workers often found themselves at the bottom of the heap, consistently earning less than men and usually in the lowest paid and least secure forms of work. By comparison, 9 out of 10 billionaires were men.

Key factors driving up rewards for shareholders and corporate bosses at the expense of workers’ pay and conditions included the erosion of workers’ rights; the excessive influence of big business over government policy-making; and the relentless corporate drive to minimize costs in order to maximize returns to shareholders.

"Oxfam is calling for governments to ensure our economies work for everyone and not just the fortunate few," it said.

"Limit returns to shareholders and top executives, and ensure all workers receive a minimum ‘living’ wage that would enable them to have a decent quality of life."

The confederation urged governments to ensure that the wealthy paid their fair share of tax -- through higher taxes and a crackdown on tax avoidance -- and to increase spending on public services such as healthcare and education. 

"A global tax of 1.5 percent on billionaires’ wealth could pay for every child to go to school," it added.

- African News Agency (ANA)