Even as the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacts the poor, the world's largest corporations are putting profits before worker safety and using their political influence to shape policy responses, a report from Oxfam International finds.
The report, Power, Profits, and the Pandemic: From corporate extraction for the few to an economy that works for all (60 pages, PDF), estimates that thirty-two of the most profitable global corporations — including Amazon, Apple, Google, Intel, Merck, Microsoft, Visa, and Walmart — will see profits increase by a total of $109 billion in 2020 from an average of their profits over the last four years. At the same time, the study found that those companies' donations in support of COVID-19 relief efforts to date average just 0.5 percent of their 2019 profits.
The report argues that even as four hundred million people worldwide have lost their jobs since the pandemic began, large corporations have compounded the impact on workers and the poor in three ways. First, overly generous shareholder payouts have left companies, workers, and governments with little cash on hand and vulnerable to an economic shock; indeed, the thirty-two companies in the study have paid their shareholders $195 billion since January, or 94 percent of their estimated profits for the year. Second, while many companies have earned massive profits during the pandemic, they have done relatively little to support government and nonprofit efforts to respond to the crisis. And third, despite rhetoric around "building back better" after the pandemic, companies continue to put profits before people — for example, by continuing to support generous executive compensation programs, failing to ensure employee safety, shifting supply chain costs and risks downstream, unfairly profiting from government relief programs, and lobbying for deregulation of environmental, tax, and social protections.
To help create a post-COVID economy that is better able to withstand future shocks — including the adverse consequences of climate change — and protect the poor, the report's authors propose a blueprint that starts with taxing excess corporate profits made during the pandemic.
"We are at a critical juncture. We have a choice between returning to 'business as usual' or learning from this moment to design a fairer and more sustainable economy," said Oxfam International executive director Chema Vera. "Unless we change course, economic inequality will increase. Now is the time to shore up small businesses, workers, and democratic institutions — not an even smaller number of large corporations that are exerting greater economic and political power."