As elite gather at Davos, Oxfam reports biggest ever global increase in billionaires

As elite gather at Davos, Oxfam reports biggest ever global increase in billionaires

·         Richest 1% bagged 82% of wealth created last year – poorest half of humanity got nothing

·         Two new Irish billionaires created with combined wealth of €34.2bn

·         Ireland has role to play in tackling obscene global inequality

Last year saw the biggest increase in the number of billionaires in history, with one more billionaire created every two days. There are now 2,043 dollar billionaires worldwide, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth, according to a new Oxfam report released today.

During this period of “billionaire boom”, 82% of the wealth generated went to the richest 1% of the global population, as the combined wealth of billionaires increased by $762bn. This is enough to end extreme poverty seven times over.

Last year saw the biggest increase in the number of billionaires in history, with one more billionaire every two days. There are now 2,043 dollar billionaires worldwide. Nine out of 10are men.5

Billionaires also saw huge increase in their wealth. This increase was enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. 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. 6, one more every two days. Billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762bn in 12 months

. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all Ireland also contributed to the upsurge in billionaires. Two more Irish people joined this exclusive club in 2017, bring the total number to eight, with a combined wealth of €34.2bn.

‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’ reveals how the global economy enables a wealthy few to accumulate vast fortunes while hundreds of millions of people are struggling to survive on poverty pay. The report is being launched as political and business elites gather this week for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The report also finds that;

·         In the period between 2006 and 2015, ordinary workers saw their incomes rise by an average of just 2% a year, while billionaire wealth rose by nearly 13% year – almost six times faster.

·         The richest 1% continue to own more wealth than the whole of the rest of humanity.

·         It takes just four days for a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands to earn what a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her lifetime.

·         It would cost $2.2 billion a year to increase the wages of all 2.5 million Vietnamese garment workers to a living wage. This is about a third of the amount paid out to wealthy shareholders by the top five companies in the garment sector in 2016.

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 minimise costs in order to maximise returns to shareholders.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: “The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system. 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.”

Women workers often find themselves at the bottom of the heap. Across the world, women consistently earn less than men and are usually in the lowest paid and least secure forms of work. By comparison, 9 out of 10 billionaires are men.

Clarken continued: “Oxfam has spoken to women across the world whose lives are blighted by inequality. Women in Vietnamese garment factories who work far from home for poverty pay and don’t get to see their children for months at a time. Women working in the US poultry industry who are forced to wear nappies 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.”

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

  • Limiting returns to shareholders and top executives, and ensuring all workers receive a minimum ‘living’ wage that would enable them to have a decent quality of life.
  • Ensuring that Governments set concrete, time bound targets and action plans to reduce inequality: In Ireland’s case this would mean implementing commitments made in the Programme for Government, whereby the Government committed to ‘develop the process of budget proofing as a means of advancing equality.’
  • Ensuring the wealthy pay their fair share of tax through higher taxes and a crackdown on tax avoidance, and increasing spending on public services such as healthcare and education. Oxfam estimates a global tax of 1.5 percent on billionaires’ wealth could pay for every child to go to school.

On Ireland’s role, Jim Clarken said; “The Irish Government is not helpless in the face of technological change and market forces. A major contributor to this obscene inequality is the widespread use of tax dodging by large corporations and the super-rich.

“Recently, our own country’s tax arrangements have been implicated as facilitating some of these nefarious practices. So now is the opportune time for the Irish Government to show their support for international tax reforms.

“Ireland must also step up and play a central role in driving change in the way global economies work. We need to use our influence and support initiatives which mean that everyone, not just elites, enjoy the fruits of international trade.”


Notes to editors

·         ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’ and a methodology document that outlines how Oxfam arrived at the key statistics in the report, is available for download:

·         Broadcast quality footage and photographs available featuring Lan, who works in a garment factory in Vietnam, supplying many global fashion brands. Long hours and poverty pay mean Lan has not been able to get home to see her son for 9 months.

·         New data from Credit Suisse reveals that 42 people now own the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity. This figure cannot be compared to figures from previous years - including the 2016/17 statistic that eight men owned the same wealth as half the world - because it is based on an updated and expanded data set published by Credit Suisse in November 2017.  When Oxfam recalculated last year’s figures using the latest data we found that 61 people owned the same wealth as half the world in 2016 – and not eight.

·         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.






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