Inequality gap widens as world sees record number of billionaires

Washington - The global economy created a record number of billionaires last year, exacerbating inequality amid a weakening of workers’ rights and a corporate push to maximize shareholder returns, charity organisation Oxfam International said in a new report.

The world now has 2 043 billionaires, after a new one emerged every two days in the past year, the nonprofit organisation said in a report published Monday. The group of mostly men saw its wealth surge by $762bn (about R9.2trn) which is enough money to end extreme poverty seven times over, according to Oxfam.

According to separate data compiled by Bloomberg, the top 500 billionaires’ net worth grew 24% to $5.38trn (about R65trn) in 2017, while the world’s richest person, Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos, saw a gain of $33.7bn (about R407bn).

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

“The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited.”

Global leaders in Davos

Oxfam published the report as global leaders, chief executives and bankers arrive in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting.

Noting that many of the world’s elite say they’re concerned about income inequality, the charity said most governments are “shamefully failing” to improve the matter.

Oxfam called on governments to limit shareholder and executive returns, while ensuring workers receive a living wage. It also recommended eliminating the gender pay gap and raising taxes on the wealthy, among other suggestions.

“People are ready for change,” Byanyima said. “They want a limit on the power and the wealth which sits in the hands of so few.”

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