The gulf between the world's richest and poorest people is widening, Oxfam has claimed, with a report by the charity revealing that 42 people hold the same amount of wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world's population.
The report, published to coincide with the first day of the World Economic Forum in Davos – which is often criticised for being little more than a talking shop for the rich and powerful – said that 82 per cent of the wealth generated last year across the world went to the richest 1 per cent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion poorest citizens saw their wealth "flatline", according to the Daily Telegraph.
Oxfam said it was "unacceptable and unsustainable" for economies to continue to enable a super-rich minority to accumulate vast wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggle to survive on poverty pay.
It called for a rethink of legal and business models that prioritise shareholder returns over broader social impact, highlighting how the "excessive corporate influence on policy-making, erosion of workers' rights and relentless drive to minimise costs in order to maximise returns to investors all contribute to a widening gap between the super-rich and the rest of society".
According to its report, billionaire wealth rose by an average of 13 per cent a year between 2006 and 2015 – six times faster than the wages of ordinary workers.
It takes just four days for a CEO of one of the world's five biggest fashion retailers to earn as much as a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her entire lifetime, the report added.
Separate figures released this month by The High Pay Centre show that in 2017 it took just three days for the UK's top bosses to make more money than the typical British full-time worker will earn all year.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam's chief executive, said: "Something is very wrong with a global economy that allows the 1 per cent to enjoy the lion's share of increases in wealth while the poorest half of humanity miss out.
"The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hard-working people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food."
Goldring continued: "Some companies and wealthy individuals are taking steps towards fairer ways of doing business but too many others use their power to protect their own interests. To really transform our economies, we need to look again at the business models and laws that prioritise shareholder returns above wider social benefit."
Oxfam has produced similar reports for the past few years. In 2017 it calculated that the world's eight wealthiest people owned as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. It later revised the figure to 61, claiming access to improved data.
A report by The Institute for Policy Studies last year showed that the three wealthiest people in the United States – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett – own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 160 million people.
The three business moguls have a total wealth of US$248.5 billion ($339b), while America's top 25 billionaires together hold US$1 trillion in wealth – about the same amount as 56 per cent of the US population combined.