Richest 1% bagged 82% of global wealth created last year, poorest half of humanity got nothing: Oxfam

January 21, 2018

(Ottawa) Eighty two per cent of global wealth generated last year went to the richest one per cent, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity saw no increase, according to a new Oxfam report.

‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’, is being released as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joins political and business elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It reveals how our global economic model enables a wealthy elite to accumulate vast fortunes, while hundreds of millions of people are struggling to survive on poverty pay.

In Canada, billionaire wealth grew by a staggering $28 billion between March 2016 and March 2017. Oxfam Canada estimates that’s enough to pay for universal child care and lift all 4.9 million Canadians out of poverty.

Since the year 2000, the number of Canadian billionaires has more than doubled - from 15 to 39 - and their wealth has almost tripled. Not a single one is a woman.

"Canada’s feminist Prime Minister has an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to tackle extreme inequality by championing women’s rights and poverty reduction in Davos. Whether at home or abroad, women workers often find themselves at the back of the line in the economy. They consistently earn less than men and do the lowest-paid and least secure forms of work," said Julie Delahanty, Executive Director at Oxfam Canada.

"Whether at home or abroad, women workers often find themselves at the back of the line in the economy. They consistently earn less than men and do the lowest-paid and least secure forms of work."

Oxfam’s report outlines the key factors driving up rewards for shareholders and corporate bosses at the expense of workers’ pay and conditions. These include 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 has spoken to women across the world whose lives are blighted by inequality. Women like Lan, who works in a Vietnamese garment factory far from home for poverty pay, and doesn’t see her children for months at a time. Women working in the US poultry industry who are forced to wear diapers because they are denied toilet breaks. Women working in hotels in Canada and the Dominican Republic who stay silent about sexual harassment for fear of losing their jobs," Delahanty said.

Oxfam is calling for governments to ensure our economies work for everyone and not just the fortunate few, asking governments to:

  • Limit returns to shareholders and top executives, and ensure all workers receive a ‘living’ wage that would enable them a decent quality of life.
  • Eliminate the gender pay gap and protect the rights of women workers.
  • Ensure the wealthy pay their fair share of tax and crack down on tax avoidance. Oxfam estimates a global tax of 1.5 per cent on billionaires’ wealth could pay for every child in the world to go to school.
  • Increase spending on public services such as child care, health care and education.

"It’s 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 actually doing something about it.  Many are actively making things worse by slashing taxes and scrapping labour rights," said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International. 

"People across the globe are ready for change. They want to see workers paid a 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 that sits in the hands of so few. They want action."

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Notes to Editors: 

  • 'Reward Work, Not Wealth’ is available here.
  • Broadcast quality footage and photographs are available featuring Lan, who works in a Vietnamese garment factory that supplies many global fashion brands. Long hours and poverty pay mean Lan has not been able to get home to see her kids for nine months. You can see them here.
  • Oxfam’s calculations are based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2017. The wealth of billionaires was calculated using Forbes' billionaires list last published in March 2017. 

Contact information

Shirlee Engel
Media Relations
Oxfam Canada
(613) 240-3047
shirlee.engel@oxfam.org