Travelling Central America before a stop in Vancouver, Oxfam Canada executive director Robert Fox will be looking at distributions of wealth, an area that is increasingly a priority for the 50-year-old charity.
“There is no doubt that both in the North and the South there is growing inequality,” Fox told the Straight. “The acceleration of an accumulation of wealth with ever more powerful, ever more tiny numbers of powerful elites is a huge problem.”
A January 2014 Oxfam International report describes the extent to which wealth is now concentrated. It states that the richest 85 people on Earth own as much as the bottom half of the planet’s entire population—more than 3.5 billion people.
On the phone from Ottawa, Fox explained that inequality goes beyond haves and have-nots.
“We are very concerned about the distorting impact, both on economies and on democracies, of this concentration of wealth in very fewer hands, and the impact that that has on public policy,” he said. “We are seeing tax policy and government priorities shifted to make it easier for the very wealthy to both increase their wealth and escape taxation on that wealth, at a time when access to public services, access to decent work, access to human rights for large portions of their populations are being undermined.”
Fox is scheduled to speak in Vancouver on May 27 at an event titled “Global Aid: What Difference Does it Make to Women Living in Poverty and their Communities?” His talk will focus on the future of international aid and what’s next for the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). He’ll also bring news from Oxfam Canada’s projects in Central America, a region that in recent years Canada’s development agency has made a priority.
The MDGs were adopted by all UN member states in 2000 as goals for reducing poverty and improving health and education in the developing world. The plan concludes in 2015. Talks are underway around how the MDGs framework will exist beyond next year.
For Fox, revisiting the MDGs is an opportunity to address two of the most pressing problems on the planet today: inequality being the first, and climate change the second.
“When we look to the future of the planet, the development goals have to be reframed as sustainable goals,” he said.
Fox maintained that there’s a strong role for charities and other types of non-profits to play in all of this, despite much hype in recent years about the benefits of private-sector partnerships.
“We’re hearing that private sector is the preferred solution for development,” he noted. “But what we’re seeing is, investing through private corporations is not a very effective way to end poverty. In fact, it too often exacerbates inequality.
“The test of whether development is effective is whether it is improving the lives of women and girls, men and boys living in poverty,” Fox continued. “Not whether it is creating greater shareholder value for Canadian pension funds and investors.”
Fox described this time as an opening to fundamentally shift relationships between richer and poorer nations, and improve how they work together on development. He emphasized that addressing inequality must be a focus of this transition.
“The post-2015 agenda has to look not just at mobilizing resources in the North in order to address the most acute problems in the South,” he explained. “It actually has to look at the issue of inequality; it has to look at redistribution. The MDGs were about changes in the South. Post-2015, it’s about changes in the South and changes in the North.
“We need to really mobilize people in the North and in the South who understand the depth and urgency of the threat and the reality that none of us are immune from the consequences of our current development model.”
Robert Fox is scheduled to speak in Vancouver as part of the Peace Geeks series on May 27 at 6 p.m. at The Hive (128 West Hastings Street).