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Oxfam highlights world inequality ahead of WEF Davos summit

The world's eight richest businessmen own as much wealth as half the world's population combined, according to an Oxfam report. Inequality is "more shocking than ever before," the aid group says.

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Oxfam: 8 people own as much as half the world

In its report, Oxfam called for an overhaul of what it described as a "warped" economy that allows eight billionaires to own as much wealth as half of the world's population, or 3.6 billion people, combined.

The report was published on Monday, a day ahead of the start of the World Economic Forum for global politicians and business leaders in the ski resort of Davos, in the Swiss Alps.

"Inequality is not only keeping millions of people trapped in poverty, it is fracturing our societies and poisoning our politics," said Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB's chief executive. "It is beyond grotesque that a group of men who could easily fit in a single golf buggy own more than the poorest half of humanity."

Oxfam reported that pay ratios mean the average pay of leading UK company chief executives is 129 times that of the average employee. It was the equivalent of 10,000 people working in Bangladeshi garment factories. "It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 (1.88 euros) a day," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International

New and better data on the distribution of global wealth, especially in India and China, indicates that the poorest people have less wealth than previously thought. Oxfam reported that had the information been available for its research last year, the report would have indicated nine billionaires owned as much as the poorest half of the planet, instead of the richest 62 people.

Call for improvements

Oxfam called on international leaders to improve cooperation to prevent tax avoidance and to encourage companies to take action for the benefit of staff as well as shareholders. It called for wealth taxes to fund healthcare, education and job creation.

Oxfam also wants to see improved opportunities for women and urged business leaders to commit to the payment of a living wage, as well as to paying their own fair share of taxes.

The charity said the trickle-down notion of wealth had been proved wrong. Corruption and cronyism have distorted markets and they need to be managed, Oxfam said. "Together we need to create a new common sense, and turn things on their head to design an economy whose primary purpose is to benefit 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent."

The World Economic Forum released a Global Risks Report last week, in which it stated that "rising income and wealth disparity is rated ... as the most important trend in determining global developments over the next 10 years," adding that "reforming market capitalism must also be added to the agenda."

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jm/kl (dpa, AP)

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