Pope Francis challenged business leaders assembled in Davos today to do more for the poor and ensure 'humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.'

In a message to more than 2,500 participants at the annual World Economic Forum, the pontiff urged industrialists and bankers to promote inclusive prosperity.

"I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it," Pope Francis said in the message read at the opening ceremony by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice.

The Argentinian pope, who has identified strongly with the poor since his election last year and severely criticised capitalism, acknowledged that business had helped lift millions out of poverty, even if it had led to widespread social exclusion.

Advertisement

"The growth of equality demands something more than economic growth, even though it presupposes it.

"It demands first of all 'a transcendent vision of the person'," he said in the message.

"It also calls for decisions, mechanisms and processes directed to a better distribution of wealth, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality."

Inequality has been widening since the 1980s but the issue has risen up the agenda since the financial crisis that erupted in 2008.

The richest 85 people in the world now have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population, or some 3.5 billion people, according to a report from the charity Oxfam this week.

Oxfam said there a need for some economic inequality to reward those with talent, skills and ambition but the current extreme situation was "damaging and worrying".

- Daily Mail