Just 8 men own same wealth as half the world, says new Oxfam report

A woman looks into the distance at the edge of a slum area.
A woman looks into the distance at the edge of a slum area.

The super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by driving down wages, using their power to influence politics, and dodging taxes. 

January 15, 2017

Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a new report by Oxfam. Here at home, just 2 people own the same wealth as the poorest 30% of Canadians.

Oxfam's report, ‘An economy for the 99 percent’, published to mark the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting of political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, shows that the gap between rich and poor is far greater than had been feared. New and better data on the distribution of global wealth – particularly in India and China – indicates that the poorest half of the world also has less wealth than had been previously thought.  

It details how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by driving down wages, using their power to influence politics, and dodging taxes. It calls for a fundamental change in the way we manage our economies so that they work for all people, and not just a fortunate few. It calls for a human economy where women are no longer rewarded with poverty wages, unequal pay, and a disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work.

As Prime Minister Trudeau heads across the country this week, Oxfam is encouraging Canadians to tell the government that they want an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy elite.

Lauren Ravon, Director of Policy and Campaigns for Oxfam Canada, said:

"The Government has repeatedly voiced its commitment to shared economic prosperity for all Canadians. As Trudeau meets with Canadians in communities across the country over the next week, we urge him to keep issues of gender inequality and poverty top of mind. Women make up a huge proportion of people living in poverty, both here in Canada and around the world. They contribute significantly to the economy but are getting short-changed by economic growth."

As Trudeau meets with Canadians in communities across the country over the next week, we urge him to keep issues of gender inequality and poverty top of mind. Women make up a huge proportion of people living in poverty, both here in Canada and around the world. They contribute significantly to the economy but are getting short-changed by economic growth.

Oxfam’s report shows how our broken economies are funnelling wealth to rich elites at the expense of the poorest in society – the majority of whom are women. The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years. To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend $1 million every day for 2738 years to spend $1 trillion.

Around the world, women are over represented in low wage sectors, face high levels of discrimination in the work place, and take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work – they therefore find themselves at the bottom of the economic pile. At current trends it will take 170 years for women globally to be paid the same as men. In Canada, women are paid less than men in over 90% of jobs tracked by Statistics Canada. There is clear evidence that a new economic model is needed if women are to attain equality.

Oxfam interviewed women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and still struggle to get by on the $1 an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands. The CEOs of these companies are some of the highest paid people in the world.

Ravon added: "The Government of Canada can take a first step to close the inequality gap by making a Federal Budget that works for women in 2017. A feminist federal budget would prioritize progressive taxation, increase the proportion of total government spending on public services and social protection to lift people out of poverty, encourage living wages, close the gender pay gap, and increase the international aid budget to make our global commitments to women’s rights a reality.”

Public anger with inequality has been creating political shockwaves across the globe. Inequality has been cited as a significant factor in the election of Donald Trump in the US, the election of President Duerte in the Philippines, and Brexit in the UK.     

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, who will be attending the Forum in Davos, said: 

“Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite.”

Seven out of 10 people live in a country that has seen a rise in inequality in the last 30 years.  Between 1988 and 2011 the incomes of the poorest 10 percent increased by just $65, while the incomes of the richest 1 percent grew by $11,800 – 182 times as much. Over the same time period in Canada, the increase in incomes of the poorest 10% accounted for just 3% of the total income growth, while the increase in incomes of the richest 10% accounted for 29%. Oxfam’s blueprint for a more human economy includes the following approaches: 

Governments must help to dismantle the barriers to women’s economic progress such as access to education and the unfair burden of unpaid care work. In Canada, Oxfam is focusing its attention on the Federal Budget 2017, and calling for decisions and investments that make work paid, equal and valued for women.

Governments should work together to ensure workers are paid a living wage and put an end to the gender wage gap.

Governments should put a stop to tax dodging and the race to the bottom on corporate tax, and should increase taxes on both wealth and high incomes to ensure a more level playing field and to generate funds needed to invest in public services, education and job creation.

The World Economic Forum has responsive and responsible leadership as its key theme this year. Business leaders can also play their part in building a human economy, starting by committing to pay their fair share of tax and by ensuring their businesses pay a living wage and pay women equally.  Canadians can also join Oxfam’s campaign to demand an economy that works for everyone at www.shortchanged.ca

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Notes to Editors: 

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland from the 17 – 20 January 2017 to highlight the urgent need for action to tackle inequality.   For more information on WEF see www.weforum.org

New and better data on the distribution of global wealth – particularly in India and China – indicates that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than had been previously thought.  Had this data been available last year, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet, and not 62, as Oxfam calculated at the time.

The following materials are available for download here: https://oxfam.box.com/v/an-economy-for-99-percent 

  • Full report and executive summary of ‘An Economy for the 99 percent’
  • A document outlining the methodology behind the statistics in the report
  • VNR footage and shot list featuring the stories of people in Kenya, Vietnam and Brazil who face a daily struggle with inequality

The world’s 8 richest people are, in order of net worth:

  • Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
  • Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
  • Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
  • Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
  • Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
  • Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
  • Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle  (net worth $43.6 billion)
  • Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

Canada’s 8 richest people are, in order of net worth:

  • David Thomson, (net worth $23.8 billion)         
  • Galen Weston, owner of Holt Renfrew (net worth $9.3 billion)
  • Garrett Camp, co-founder of UBER (net worth $6.2 billion)    
  • James Irving, owner of Brunswick News (publishing); and J. D. Irving Limited, a conglomerate with interests in forestry, pulp and paper, tissue, newsprint, building supplies, frozen food, transportation, shipping lines, and ship building (net worth $5.4 billion)      
  • Bernard (Barry) Sherman, created Apotex, Canada's largest pharmaceutical company ( net worth $4.9 billion)
  • Arthur Irving, owner of Irving Oil (net worth $4.7 billion)           
  • Jim Pattison, Chief Executive Officer, Chairman and sole owner of the Jim Pattison Group (net worth $4.5 billion)
  • Emanuele (Lino) Saputo, owner of Saputo Dairy (net worth    $4.4 billion)     

Oxfam’s calculations are based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2016: http://publications.credit-suisse.com/tasks/render/file/index.cfm?fileid...

The wealth of the world’s richest people was calculated using Forbes' billionaires list last published in March 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kerenblankfeld/2016/03/01/forbes-billionaire...

Contact information

Melanie Gallant
Media Relations for Oxfam Canada
613-240-3047 or 613-858-2658
melanie.gallant@oxfam.ca 
@melgalla