InternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 14

Social justice: The ideal and the reality

World Day of Social Justice is observed on February 20 every year. The main objective of celebrating the day is to mobilise the world public opinion against social injustice and to bring various international communities together to eliminate poverty, gender, and physical discrimination, illiteracy and religious discrimination which accentuate social injustice.

The theme of World Day of Social Justice 2021 is “A Call for Social Justice in the Digital Economy”. The theme is meant to support efforts by the international community to search for solutions to achieve sustainable development, poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, universal social protection, gender equality and access to social well-being and justice for all.

Over the last few years, the world has moved towards a digital economy and expansion in broadband connectivity. This has led to the mushrooming of digital platforms in all sectors. Though this provides many opportunities and has helped in ‘work from home’ facilities amid the pandemic, yet it has also “laid bare and exacerbated the growing digital divide within” in developed and developing countries. Social justice in a digital economy has become a necessity as traditional workforces have started suffering. Local wage earners and small businesses are facing challenges like unfair competition. Also everyone is not able to keep up and adapt to the digital transformations. Many do not even have access to the digital infrastructure and funding needed for the purpose.

In its broader sense, social justice refers to equal opportunities, distribution of wealth, healthcare facilities and privileges within a society. Social justice also includes human rights and looking after people who have historically faced discrimination based on race, religion, sex and economic background. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in the last one year, the alarming inequalities have been further sharpened and hence World Day of Social Justice 2021 assumes great importance this year.

The concept of social justice first emerged in the 19th century when the wide disparities in wealth and amenities perpetuated through the social structure of the times. During the Industrial Revolution, philosophers and activists first attempted to promote equality and stop exploitation of marginalized people.

To recall, it was on November 26, 2007, that the General Assembly declared that starting from the sixty-third session of the General Assembly, 20 February will be celebrated annually as World Day of Social Justice. Following this, the International Labour Organization unanimously adopted the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization on June 10, 2008. This was the third major statement of principles and policies adopted by the International Labour Conference since the ILO’s Constitution of 1919. It was built on the Philadelphia Declaration of 1944 and the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998. The 2008 Declaration expressed the contemporary vision of the ILO’s mandate in the era of globalization.

The landmark declaration is a powerful reaffirmation of ILO values. It is the outcome of tripartite consultations that started in the wake of the Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization. By adopting this text, the representatives of governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations from 182 member states emphasized the key role of the tripartite organization in helping achieve progress and social justice in the context of globalization. Together, they committed to enhance the ILO’s capacity to advance these goals, through the Decent Work Agenda. The declaration institutionalizes the Decent Work concept developed by the ILO since 1999, placing it at the core of the organization’s policies to reach its constitutional objectives.

The declaration came at a crucial moment, reflecting the wide consensus on the need for a strong social dimension to globalization in achieving improved outcomes for all. It constitutes a compass for the promotion of a fair globalization based on decent work, as well as a practical tool to accelerate progress in the implementation of the Decent Work Agenda at the international level. It also reflects a productive outlook by highlighting the importance of sustainable enterprises in creating greater employment and income opportunities for all.

It is now universally recognized that social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among nations and that, in turn, social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security or in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Globalization is opening new opportunities through trade, investment and capital flows and advances in technology, including information technology, for the growth of the world economy and the development and improvement of living standards around the world, while at the same time there remain serious challenges, including serious financial crises, insecurity, poverty, exclusion and inequality within and among societies.

Today, we are faced with the problem of a widening income and wealth gap in the world. Employment growth since 2008 has averaged only 0.1pc annually, compared with 0.9pc between 2000 and 2007. Over 60 per cent of all workers lack any kind of employment contract. Fewer than 45 per cent of wage and salaried workers are employed on a full-time, permanent basis, and even that share is declining. By 2019, more than 212 million people were out of work, up from 201 million in previous years. All this underlines the need for redoubling our efforts for greater social justice for all peoples everywhere.