Governments need to get out of their 'cosy bed' with business - Oxfam chief speaks out on income inequality

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By Euronews
Governments need to get out of their 'cosy bed' with business - Oxfam chief speaks out on income inequality

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, euronews caught up with Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam.

For heaven's sake, if you're a company that's worth your name, that cares about people and the planet, give a wage that is a living wage

euronews: “How dramatic is the divide between the richest and the poorest people in the world?”

Byanyima: “Oxfam’s report, released this week, shows the grand scale and the frightening pace of economic inequality. Sixty-two people today own as much wealth as half of humanity, 3.6 billion people at the bottom. And this has been growing. In 2010, this figure was 388 and last year it was 80, now it’s 62. In a few years’ time it could be just 10 (people) owning as much wealth as half of humanity – that’s huge. And Oxfam, in our report, shows just how that has been happening, why it is happening – and that it is not inevitable.

euronews: “That chasm has grown even quicker than even Oxfam had been predicting – so what has been going wrong?”

Byanyima: “This has been going on for the last 30 years. Basically, what it is, is that rich and powerful individuals and companies have been able to skew the rules of the economy in their favour – so that the economy today works for a small group of people at the top, leaving out the rest. So, the growth in the economies of our countries is ‘captured’ by a few elites at the top – and the majority come out with nothing. All the policies of the last 30 years – privitasation, deregulation, globalisation, financial secrecy – these are the policies that have helped skew the economy in favour of a few rich people.

“Let me give an example, we highlight the case of tax havens, just to show how the economy is working for a few. Tax havens don’t benefit anybody except the rich people who stash their money away and prevent it from being taxed. Right now, 7.6 trillion dollars of rich individuals’ money is hidden away in tax havens, untaxed. If it were taxed it could bring 190 billion dollars into government coffers to fund infrastructure, to fund health, to fund education, to lift many people out of poverty, and to give a good standard of living.

euronews: “We’ve got some of the global elite gathered here in Davos. They talk a lot about reducing the gap between rich and poor – and yet it’s growing. What can world leaders do to combat big businesses just getting bigger and richer?”

Byanyima: “In fact our report shows that it is not inevitable, but governments have to get out of a cosy bed with business and do their job, which is to take care of the entire population – all their citizens. And that means, for example, coming together as governments and agreeing on a global and effective way to end this tax-dodging that’s denying governments the money they need to create harmonious, good, healthy societies.

“For example, to end the issue of tax havens, to end the era of tax havens you need global cooperation from all governments. To end harmful tax practices, to end this tax competition that pushes governments to lower and lower their tax rates for these companies – all these need a global process that includes all governments. So, they should get going on establishing a global system to improve – and to close – all tax loopholes.”

euronews: “Do you think that’s realistic?”

Byanyima: “It is realistic. In fact, last year the G20, led by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) did agree some measures, some reforms, to close some areas of tax dodging – but they didn’t go far enough. They only touched on a few areas that affect rich countries. But a lot of issues that are important for developing countries were not touched. This issue of tax havens – the governments of the G20 shied away from it, they didn’t tackle it. The issue of harmful tax competition – the ‘race to the bottom’ – wasn’t dealt with. So, we need a broader set of reforms that include all governments.

“We need to give a living wage. That’s what I’m telling the businesses here. You don’t have to wait for a government to legislate on a minimum wage. For heaven’s sake, if you’re a company that’s worth your name, that cares about people and the planet, give a wage that is a living wage.”