There has been the greatest-ever rise in inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic and the world is paying the price for the failure of governments to address this issue, rights group Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a session on ‘Delivering Social Justice in the Recovery’ during the World Economic Forum’s online Davos Agenda Summit, she said equality has to be at the heart of social justice.
“Equality is a fresh and moral and serious framework, and crucial for fighting climate breakdown… We are paying for the failure of governments to address inequality. We’ve seen the greatest rise in inequality since records began,” she said.
“Tinkering at the edges won’t do… we need to abolish inequality,” Bucher added.
The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have sparked new commitments from leaders across the world to redress systemic inequalities and demonstrate their stakeholder responsibility to social justice.
Many of them have announced significant investments in climate justice as well as new task forces on racial equity and corporate sustainability.
Speaking at the same session, Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said the differences in health outcomes — and the impact of COVID-19 on black and white men in London — are signs that we need to work together to tackle inequality.
Anisa Kamadoli Costa, chairman and president of Tiffany & Co Foundation, said we are living in an era of employee activism, so businesses must listen.
“True multi-stakeholder initiatives are about co-creation, more than just giving people a seat at the table. Businesses are speaking out, but they are backing this up with action. It cannot be greenwashing or performative allyship, we are looking for authenticity,” she added.
Bucher, whose organisation releases a report on global inequality every year just before the annual Davos summit, said equality is a framework that can reshape the way we run the economies for the 21st century.
“It will drive us to goals economies around the world agree to and it is crucial for fighting the climate break down,” she said.
It could take more than a decade for billions of people to recover from the economic hit of the pandemic, while at the very top, just 10 billionaires have seen their wealth skyrocket since March 2020.
“That could have paid to vaccinate the world and prevent anyone from being pushed into poverty by the pandemic,” she said.
Bucher further said Oxfam’s study has shown that nearly 22,000 black and Hispanic people in the US would have been alive today if the COVID-19 mortality rates were the same as that for white people.
Khan said the pandemic has exposed the destruction of inequalities.
“What I mean by that, if you are a black male in London, you are four-times more likely to have lost your life than if you are a white male Londoner. If you are a mother, you are 50 per cent more likely to have lost her job than a father,” he said.
Darren Walker, president of Ford Foundation, said the audience at Davos are the world’s greatest capitalists and he is a capitalist too because he believes in the system.
But if capitalism is to be sustained, we must put a nail in the ideology that propels inequality. The challenge of white supremacy and patriarchy is real in our systems, he said.
“There was a BC world: Before Coronavirus. Many of the structures and understandings in a PC world must be dismantled. Inequality must be recognised in the boardrooms. We must ask ourselves how we move beyond statements of ‘Black Lives Matter’ to the boardroom and how companies can sustain diversity as a value if their boards are entirely white,” he added.
Khan said the ripples of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd in the US have been felt around the world.
On the situation in the UK in terms of Brexit and the COVID-19 crisis, he said, “The timing of Brexit couldn’t have been worse. We need multilateralism.”
Walker said as the world becomes increasingly urbanised, the 21st century is going to be about cities and mayors, and they have been keen in standing up for citizens on certain issues.
“The best antidote to populism in recent times has been the election of Joe Biden (as US President),” he added.
Bucher also said we need to be more conscious of our interconnectedness.
“Vaccines are a critical inequality. Rich countries are making the greatest efforts, but one in nine people in developing countries are going to miss out. It is a self-defeating recipe for inequality,” she said.
She called for urgent action to ensure people get care irrespective of the colour of their skin or the cash in their pockets.