Billionaires won corona

A new report reveals how the plutes exploited the pandemic

This week marks the six-month anniversary of the official declaration of a pandemic.

To celebrate your new sweatpantsed existence, The.Ink is bringing you the first look at an astonishing new report from Oxfam America.

Imagine you’re just finishing your shift as a picker at an Amazon warehouse.

All day long you’ve been carting items for other people, under giant letters on the wall that spell “work hard. have fun. make history.” The pandemic has been hard on you. You can tell from what people are buying that it’s been hard on just about everybody. But as you come off shift, you get life-changing news.

Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, has decided to give you a bonus. In fact, he has decided to give every single employee of Amazon — some 876,000 people — a one-time pandemic bonus. A $105,000 bonus. Serious money. The kind of money that, if invested over a couple of decades, would give you a real retirement nest egg.

The crazy thing? The money he is giving you — it’s merely the extra wealth he gained during the pandemic, wealth that you built. After he has paid out those $92 billion in bonuses, he will still be comfortably off. In fact, as rich as he was before coronatime.

Of course, Bezos isn’t going to do this. But the fact that he could is one of the striking findings of a new report from Oxfam on plutocratic profiteering from the pandemic.

The report, of which The.Ink got an exclusive preview, makes clear that the billionaire class hasn’t just fiddled while Rome burns. It has made a fortune from the flames.

The pandemic threatens to drive half a billion human beings into poverty around the world, according to the report, which is titled “Power, Profits and the Pandemic.” Even so, 32 of the world’s biggest corporations will see profits swell by $109 billion in 2020. 

“COVID-19 has been tragic for the many but good for a privileged few,” says Chema Vera, executive director of Oxfam International. “The economic crisis we are suffering because of the pandemic has been fueled by a rigged economic model. The world’s largest corporations are making billions at the expense of low wage workers and funneling profits to shareholders and billionaires — a small group of largely white men in rich nations.”

The pandemic has thrown millions to the ground. But the Oxfam report makes clear that they continue to lie there because the plutocratic class is standing on their necks — advocating for relief measures that favor companies over everyday people and resisting calls for even just a one-time pandemic tax on extreme good fortune.

Among the disclosures from Oxfam are these:

— In the US, an estimated 27,000 meat packing workers have tested positive — one in nine employees — and more than 90 have died from COVID-19. The country’s largest meat processing company, Tyson Foods, published a letter advocating against closing its factories, despite 8,500 of its employees testing positive for the virus.

— Ten of the world’s largest apparel brands paid 74% of their profits (a total of $21 billion) to their shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks in 2019. This year 2.2 million workers in Bangladesh alone were affected when textile orders were cancelled. Factory shutdowns have lowered revenues in the country by an estimated $3 billion.

— In India, hundreds of tea plantation workers, many of them women, have gone unpaid as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. At the same time, some of the largest Indian tea companies have boosted their profits or have been able to maintain profit margins by cutting costs.

— Mining operations in Peru have been kept open despite high risks of infection among their employees.

— Chevron announced cuts of 10-15% of its 45,000 global work force despite spending more cash on dividends and share buybacks during the first quarter of the year than they generated from core business.

— Nigeria's largest cement company, Dangote Cement, allegedly fired more than 3,000 staff without prior notice or due process while the company is still expected to pay 136% of its profits to shareholders in 2020.

In the report, Oxfam America calls for an excess-profits tax, of the kind proposed by Reuven S. Avi-Yonah of the University of Michigan. (Go Blue!)

The report will be released later this evening on Oxfam’s website.


Photo: Mark Ralston / Getty