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World leaders to tackle wealth disparity at economic forum

The world’s wealthiest individuals have a disproportionate influence on government policies and agenda, at the expense of some of the world’s poorest individuals, according to a new report issued ahead of this week’s World Economic Forum.
Preparations for the coming World Economic Forum
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The world’s wealthiest individuals have a disproportionate influence on government policies and agenda, at the expense of some of the world’s poorest individuals, according to a new report issued ahead of this week’s World Economic Forum.

In Working for the Few, released ahead of the forum, aid and development nonprofit Oxfam said the 85 wealthiest individuals, enough to fill a London double-decker bus, control $1.7 trillion – the same amount as the poorest half of the population, or 3.5 billion people. A further $21 trillion was estimated to be held in unrecorded and offshore accounts.

Income inequality is to be a theme of the World Economic Forum, which begins on Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland and will be attended by world leaders including UK prime minster David Cameron and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, as well as chief executives of some of the world’s biggest banks.

Co-chairs of the event will include Aliko Dangote, a descendent of Nigeria’s Dantata family, and president and chief executive of the Dangote Group, as well as president of the Rockefeller Foundation Judith Rodin.

Global Risks 2014, a report issued by the forum in the lead up to this week’s event, said income disparity was the most pressing risk facing the world over the next 10 years, ahead of extreme weather events, unemployment and cyber attacks.

The Oxfam report elaborated on this, stating that income disparity is bad for the economy, and compounds inequalities between men and women, and ethnic minorities.

The non-profit said some inequality is essential – to reward those with talent, skills, and the spirit of entrepreneurship – but that the world’s wealthiest individuals were gaining disproportionate influence over governments across the globe through expensive lobbying.

These included the dilution of the Dodd-Frank Act in the US following extensive lobbying from the financial industry, and mining companies campaigning to pay minimal taxes in Africa, thereby excluding native populations from the benefits of their countries’ mineral wealth.

Regarding income disparity, Jon Slater, head of news at Oxfam, said "There is also a growing public awareness of the problem, and an understanding that inequality is not just bad for the poorest, it's bad for society as a whole."

The nonprofit has made a call for the world’s ultra-high net worth individuals to make public all the investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners and demand a living wage in companies they own or control. 

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