Johannesburg - Capitalism has been branded a “crime against humanity” amid concerns about the growing wage gap between executive and workers’ salaries revealed in the annual Oxfam International Inequality Report.
The report comes to a backdrop of a worrying Wits University exposé that also lays bare the widening income inequality between executives and workers’ pay from multinational companies Shoprite, Naspers and Steinhoff - companies which had prominent figures implicated in financial irregularity scandals last year.
Oxfam’s report, which was released at its South African headquarters in Joburg on Monday, details how there are now 2 043 dollar billionaires in the world - the so-called top 1% - whose wealth increased by $762 billion last year, “enough to end extreme poverty seven times over”.
Nine out of 10 of the top 1% are men, Oxfam said.
The NGO’s report, titled Reward Work, Not Wealth, further states that “82% of all of the growth in global wealth in the last year went to the top 1%, whereas the bottom 50% saw no increase at all”.
And as many of them gather in Davos, Switzerland, in all their splendour and glory to table policies at the World Economic Forum conference, Oxfam says it would be in their interest to rapidly prioritise gaps that exist between low-paid workers and those in top management.
The international report by Oxfam reveals that workers across the world continue to receive low wages despite working hard while their bosses net millions in salaries, proving the old adage that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.
In South Africa, it emerged from a Wits University research report compiled last year for 2016 salaries that:
Shoprite’s chief executive, Whitey Basson, earned 1 332 times more money than the average salary of an employee.
Naspers’ chief executive Bob Van Dijk earned 264 times more than an average worker.
Steinhoff’s former chief executive Markus Jooste earned 234 times more.
According to the Wits University’s National Minimum Wage Research Initiative report, Basson took home R100.1million last year while Van Dijk pocketed R162.4million, and the discredited Jooste banked R88.9million.
Siphokazi Mthathi, Oxfam SA’s executive director, said this was why she believed capitalism to be a “crime against humanity”, as companies with gaping wage inequalities, which are entangled in graft, continue to reward billionaires at the expense of ordinary workers.
“We outline in the report that the wealth that the marginalised produce, but don’t benefit from, should be considered a crime against humanity.
“The humanity we are talking about are the 3.7 billion people who continue to be excluded from benefits, yet their labour is extracted to feed and bolster the profits of the wealthy.
"Free market capitalism has not worked for the majority of the world’s people,” Mthathi emphasised, speaking on the sidelines of the report’s release.
Her views on capitalism being an exploitative crime were echoed by Eleanor Hoedemaker, head of Cape Town’s New Horizon Community Issues Forum, which is supporting seven Shoprite workers facing charges of theft after being caught on video accepting tips from satisfied customers.
Hoedemaker said the exploitation was so rife at Shoprite regarding low wages that workers accepted tips from customers as a way of supplementing their “meagre income”.
Shoprite said in a statement that receiving tips was against company policy, which Hoedemaker said the workers were aware of.
“But it was normal practice at that store to receive tips,” she said,
However, contentions of capitalism being a crime were rejected by the Free Market Foundation, whose founding executive director, Leon Louw, said people who called capitalism a crime reflected “a deep level of evil”.
Louw asserted that countries which had the best living standards, longest life expectancy rates and excellent health and education provisions were capitalist countries, adding that this was why scores of people migrated to these countries daily.
“They (poor people) migrate in one direction and one direction only; from socialist to capitalist countries.
"They know that the best place to be poor is where the world’s richest people are,” Louw stressed.
On private sector corruption, Louw said the public sector was more corrupt than the private, where “salivating socialists” celebrated each time a private-sector firm was fingered in corruption, such as the “Steinhoff fraud”.