More than 80 percent of the wealth created over the past year went to the richest 1 percent of the world's population, while nothing went to the bottom half, according to a new report by charity Oxfam.
"Inequality is not inevitable, it's not like the weather. It's a policy choice."Oxfam’s head of policy on inequality.
Its findings, published on Monday, show that just 42 people now hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the world's poorer half.
Last year also saw the biggest increase in the number of billionaires in history, with one more every two days. There are now 2,043 dollar billionaires worldwide.
"Billionaires' wealth is growing six times faster than wages. So we're not talking about a static situation. We're talking about a situation that's getting rapidly worse – where you've got this runaway wealth for those at the top," Oxfam’s head of policy on inequality, Max Lawson, told Euronews in an interview.
The wealth gone into these billionaires' hands would have been enough to end extreme poverty seven times over, says the charity.
The report, "Reward Work, Not Wealth," comes just as the global political and business elite gathers in Davos for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting this week.
Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima also headed to Davos to urge global leaders to take action.
"I'm here to tell big business and politicians that this is not natural, that it's their actions and their policies that have caused it, and they can reverse it. And we're tired of hearing them say that they are worried about inequality and doing nothing about it. We're calling for actions now," she said.
Nine in ten billionaires are men
Oxfam's findings are based on the annual Global Wealth Databook of Swiss bank Credit Suisse as well as Forbes' billionaire ranking series.
The report highlights that women workers are the hardest hit by global inequality, as they consistently earn less than men and typically have more insecure forms of work, especially in the garment industry. They're also less likely to be part of a trade union, and at higher risk of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.
Meanwhile, nine in ten of the world's billionaires are men, and 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 entire lifetime.
"It tends to be that the whole of the global economy is on the backs of low-paid women – and it's producing wealth for very wealthy old men," Lawson said in a Skype interview.
"Inequality is not inevitable"
Oxfam's report notes that in Bangladesh, young women working in garment factories regularly suffer from urinary tract infections because they are not allowed to go the toilet. Even in the United States, women poultry workers told the charity they had to wear nappies to stay on the job.
"Inequality is not inevitable, it's not like the weather. It's a policy choice,” said Lawson.
"There are two concrete things that business leaders and governments could do. If you're a business leader, you should undertake not to pay any further dividends to your shareholders, or any bonuses to your chief executives unless you can prove that everybody in your supply chain is paid a living wage – that every woman working in your factories has a decent life and doesn’t have to work 30-40 hours overtime just to make ends meet," he said.
"The second thing that companies and particularly governments could do is ensure that the wealthy and corporations pay their tax, and to really clamp down on the tax avoidance of the super-rich."