In 1984, Time Zone and Afrika Bambaataa banded together to produce “World Destruction”. An unlikely pair, ex Sex Pistols John Lydon and the DJ sang succinctly (if not angrily) about the impending doom of the human race with the lyrics “The rich get richer, the poor are getting poorer”. Fast forward to 2018, and the predicted self-destruction has not yet taken place, but the lyrics in the song are as relevant as ever.
Last month, Oxfam declared that the gap between the super-rich and the rest of the world widened last year, with wealth still owned by a small minority. Not exactly music to anyone’s ears, in fact, it’s not even new music to anyone’s ears. Oxfam claims 82% of money produced last year went to the richest 1% of the population, while the poorest half saw no increase at all. Evidence of a failing system if there ever was one. Oxfam’s statistics have been widely criticised, and it’s possible (entirely likely) that there’s an element of self-serving PR with the report, but Oxfam aren’t the only ones rallying behind this sentiment this month.
Oxfam’s report was published in the same week the World Economic Conference in Davos took place. WEC is an annual elitist affair, which is usually more about who is in attendance than what the attendees discuss. This years theme was “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”. Cue the violins. Not to be overshadowed by Donald Trump’s arrival, our very own UK shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, used his 5 minutes of fame on the Davos stage to proclaim #timesup for global leaders as the people have had enough of their “complacency” after struggling through decades of austerity. McDonnell told The Guardian that “corporations…had been getting away with “industrial-scale tax avoidance” ”. No word from him on how this has been allowed to take place (insert googly two-eyed emoji here).
Tech companies in particular have been called out despite the release of Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer noting it is the most “trusted” industry in America. The theme of accountability echoed throughout the conference with Theresa May stating investors should consider the social impact of technology firms they hold a stake in. The head honchos from the Facebook’s, Instagram’s and Twitter’s of this world, were also questioned on the perceived excesses of Silicon Valley – from anti competitive behaviour (Amazon, anyone?), unregulated content, to the looming threats from AI. Now no one can deny the positive impact that the tech industry has had on the world, but the message here is that the tech industry at its worst needs to check its privilege.
This widespread distrust isn’t specific to big corporations – tech or otherwise, the media are also taking a hammering. The escalation of fake news – whether for financial gain, pushing political agenda or plain bad reporting – has shaken people’s trust.
But business big and small, isn’t all doom and gloom. In Britain, we’ve seen a resurgence of entrepreneurism with startups being set up at a record rate over the years. These startups and small businesses have a different outlook to conglomerates, and are usually focused on being eco-friendly, socially conscious, with this ingrained in the businesses DNA, rather than attached on as an afterthought. However most recently the Centre of Entrepreneurs have suggested there are signs that the introduction rate of new promising business has now stalled. Budding entrepreneurs with innovative, outlandish even cray-cray ideas are the backbone of our economy. We need more Freda’s of this world. A business with a conscience – inspired by the refugee plight – founder Affi offers an environmentally friendly period subscription. More Union Hand-Roasted Coffees of this world – craft coffee producers who balance profit with ethics. The list is endless.
Only time will tell if the goliaths of the business world will buck up, or be made to buck up. One thing we do know, is that if we don’t start investing in startups, and people with pipe dreams, then in the lyrics of our friends, “if we don’t start to look for a better life, the world will be destroyed in a time zone”. Whatever that means.