The richest 1% of the global population received 82% of all new wealth generated in 2017. Meanwhile, the poorest 50% saw no increase at all. The combined wealth of billionaires increased by $762bn (£546bn) during the course of the year; enough to end poverty several times over, according to Oxfam International's Reward Work, Not Wealth report.
The report stated that the CEO of a top-five fashion company would take just four days to earn what a Bangladeshi garment worker would earn in a lifetime.
A new billionaire was created every two days in 2017, representing the biggest increase in history. There are now 2,043 dollar billionaires, 90% of whom are male. Since 2010, billionaire wealth has increased by an average of 13% per year; over six times more than the wages of average workers.
The report was released as world leaders, economists and top business people prepare to travel to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Critics accuse it of being nothing more than a networking event for the world's richest and most powerful figures, although Forum organisers say the event aims to "rededicate leaders from all walks of life to developing a shared narrative to improve the state of the world".
"Governments and international institutions need to recognise the impact of the current mainstream neoliberal economic model on the world's poor," Oxfam's report says. "Then they must work to develop more human economies that have greater equality as a primary aim." The report warned that if the current situation continues, global populist and nationalist trends could worsen.
The report made a series of recommendations, including that governments set concrete targets to ensure the collective income of the top 10% of the population be no more than the income of the bottom 40%. The report also called on governments to eliminate the gender pay gap and ensure the rights of female workers, limit shareholder returns and support worker organisation and collective bargaining.
To ensure a fairer society, Oxfam recommended that governments commit to achieving universal free public services and a universal social protection floor, work towards international tax reforms and eradicate the use of tax havens.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May will be attending the Forum in Davos, fresh from issuing a warning to companies who prioritise their own financial interests over those of their workers. The announcement was spurred by the failure of construction giant Carillion. The company collapsed with a pensions deficit of up to £900m ($1.26bn), meaning 28,000 employees across the company's 13 pension schemes now face a cut to their retirement funds, according to The Guardian.
The Financial Times reported that just one year before the collapse, Richard Howson, chief executive of Carillion until July 2017, received a £1.5m ($2.1m) salary and a £245,000 ($342,000) bonus, despite the growing pensions deficit.
"Too often, we've seen top executives reaping big bonuses for recklessly putting short-term profit ahead of long-term success," May wrote in the Observer on 20 January. "Our best businesses know that is not a responsible way to run a company and those who do so will be forced to explain themselves."