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This year, Oxfam continued to drive the inequality debate, at global, regional and national levels. Again and again, we stood up to speak truth to power to show leaders how extreme inequality prevents us from eradicating poverty, and how rigged the rules are in favor of those who are already at the top. We demanded change – and a world economy that works for everyone.
Calling on global leaders for a fairer tax system - Despite world leaders signing up to a global goal to reduce inequality (at the World Economic Forum in 2013), the division of wealth between the richest 1% and everyone else showed no sign of abating. With this chasm in inequality growing, it was time to make a stand. In 2016, we started to build and publicize our vision for a new ‘human’ economy by urging global action on an unfair tax system that deprives developing country governments of the resources they need to deliver the essential services that we know reduce inequality and poverty.
When, on 9 May 2016, documents were leaked detailing information about more than 200,000 offshore entities, despite Panamanian law firm Mossak Fonseca’s attempts to block the leak, it caused a media storm. Oxfam was there calling for an end to the era of tax havens, urging global leaders to make sure that companies pay their tax where instead they make profit, and pushing global institutions like the World Bank and IMF to look at how their practices can change to support more responsible corporate tax behavior.
In September 2016, as world leaders met at the UN General Assembly in New York, our evidence-based reporting, influencing and public awareness campaigns ensured that Oxfam’s call to end global inequality was front and center. As President Barack Obama told delegates in his departing speech: “A world in which 1% own as much as wealth as the other 99% will never be stable."
Pressure on the EU - We worked with members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to demand that companies be transparent about what they earn, and where, and when they pay taxes, showing how companies like banks can otherwise stash billions in profits in tax havens. In response to Oxfam’s report on European Union (EU) banks and tax dodging – Opening the Vault – Pierra Moscovici, European Commissioner, tweeted: “Thanks to EU rules, NGOs such as @Oxfam can bring to light unfair practices of some companies. #transparency is a win-win! @EU Commission.”
Anti-Corruption Summit - In May 2016, in advance of the UK Summit, Oxfam brought together 300 thought leaders and top economists to affirm in an open letter that tax havens have no economic justification. As delegates met at this high profile event, our letter urging the UK government to ensure that Britain’s offshore territories publish full public registers showing who controls and profits from the money invested there achieved widespread media coverage.
Working with countries in the global South – Oxfam was invited by the governments of Ecuador, El Salvador and Bolivia to share information about more equitable tax policies, and worked with G77 countries to support their calls for a global tax body and reforms to the global tax system, to ensure a voice for developing countries. The launch of several national inequality reports helped to kick-start the inequality debate nationally in countries from Indonesia to Uganda to Vietnam. Indonesia’s four richest men have more wealth than the country’s poorest 100 million people, and the income of just one of them could wipe out extreme poverty in the country. In February 2017, Oxfam welcomed President Jokowi’s decision to make fighting inequality his top priority, and will continue to hold the government to account for achieving progressive policy, such as enforcing a living wage for all workers, increasing spending on public services, and ensuring that big corporations and rich individuals pay their fair share of tax.
Global witness - An important part of our work has involved making sure that the experiences of people from developing countries are heard in the global debate about inequality and how to solve it. Working with partners and allies, we showed the detrimental impact of user fees on access to health care, supporting Malawian partners to advocate against the rolling back of health care provisions. We showed how inequality impacts women especially, who are ‘Underpaid & Undervalued’ for their work both within and outside their homes (as these video clips show). We also engaged the public in this conversation, finding innovative ways to share our messages about the unfair global tax system – as shown in our hidden camera stunts in Italy and Ireland.
The rich and the rest - Our interactive online Inequality Calculator allowed viewers in Latin America to see just how big the gap was between their income and that of multimillionaires, a powerful way of showing the gap between the rich and the rest. We also showed how tax dodging impacted the lives of millions of ordinary people in Malawi – where there are just three nurses for every 10,000 people. Yet the lost tax revenue from the money held by Malawians in HSBC accounts in Geneva could pay the salaries of 800 nurses for one year, and tax dodging by just one mining company cost Malawi more than US$43 million over the last six years.
World Economic Forum, Davos - Since 2015, the richest 1% have owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. Left unchecked, growing inequality threatens to pull our societies apart, increasing crime and insecurity, and undermining the fight to end poverty. In May 2016, in Davos, we revealed that that the world’s 8 richest people own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world, and shared stories of what this kind of extreme inequality means for people in Kenya, Vietnam and Brazil, mobilizing with allies from across the Fight Inequality Alliance (of which Oxfam is a founding member). This was an opportunity to also launch our visionary Human Economy concept that advocates the design of a global economy whose primary purpose is to benefit everyone, and not just the privileged few.
Universal Health Coverage - Oxfam and allies mobilized more than 300 organizations and 350 academics from over 60 countries in a campaign to persuade the Inter-Agency and Expert Group (IAEG) to include Universal Health Coverage as a key indicator of progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In November 2016, we were delighted when the IAEG announced that this indicator would be retained. This was a big win for the alliance and will mean that the 100 million people pushed into poverty each year by paying for health care will no longer be invisible in the Sustainable Development Goal’s monitoring data. This will improve our understanding of which health policies best address poverty and inequality, and enable us to push for policy change that will achieve health for all.
The world is finally talking about inequality and how we can fix it, and we continue to raise the voices of those most disadvantaged by an unfair system, to call for change and an economy for the many, not just the few.