With 80 per cent of the world’s people lacking adequate social protection and global inequalities growing, top United Nations officials are calling for a new era of social justice that offers basic services, decently paid jobs, and safeguards for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized.
“Social justice is more than an ethical imperative; it is a foundation for national stability and global prosperity,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message ahead of the World Day of Social Justice, observed on 20 February. “Equal opportunity, solidarity and respect for human rights, these are essential to unlocking the full productive potential of nations and peoples.”
UN International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Juan Somavia also highlighted the linkage between social justice and national stability, citing the protests in North Africa and the Middle East that have already driven Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office.
“As Tunisia and Egypt are showing us, jobs and justice, bread and dignity, protection and democracy, national and global security are not unrelated demands,” he said in a message for the Day. “What happens in the future will very much depend on whether the connections are recognized and acted upon.”
Mr. Ban said the continuing fallout from the global financial and economic crisis makes achieving social justice more important than ever. “For the tens of millions who have lost their jobs since the crisis began, the global recession is far from over,” he noted, underscoring UN efforts to establish a global “social protection floor” to guarantee food security, health services for all and old-age pensions for the 80 per cent of the world’s people who now lack protection.
“No one should live below a certain income level, and everyone should have access to essential public services such as water and sanitation, health and education,” he added. “The pursuit of social justice is crucial to maximizing the potential for growth with equity and minimizing the risks of social unrest. Together, let us rise to the challenge and ensure that our work for sustainable development delivers social justice for all.”
Mr. Somavia highlighted decent employment opportunities as a vital plank for social justice. “It is time to build a new era of social justice on a foundation of decent work,” he said. “Women and men without jobs or livelihoods really don’t care if their economies grow at 3, 5 or 10 per cent per year if such growth leaves them behind and without protection.
“They do care whether their leaders and their societies promote policies to provide jobs and justice, bread and dignity, freedom to voice their needs, their hopes and their dreams and the space to forge practical solutions where they are not always squeezed… Yet the world of work is in tatters today: more than 200 million people are unemployed worldwide, including nearly 80 million youth.”
Both these figures are at or near their highest points ever, while the number of workers in vulnerable employment – some 1.5 billion – and the 630 million working poor living with their families on $1.25 a day or less is increasing, he warned.
Among the essential stations on the path to social justice, Mr. Somavia cited the need to make job creation targets a central component of macroeconomic policy priorities alongside low inflation and sound fiscal accounts, and to provide fiscally sustainable social protection to the eight out of 10 people who lack any form of social security in the world today.
Outlining the principles behind the social protection floor earlier this week, ILO Social Security Department Director Michael Cichon stressed the fact that it would only take 2 per cent of global GDP [gross domestic product] to basically give security systems to all the world’s poor.
Tripartite delegations of Governments, employers and workers from all 183 ILO member States are due to meet in June to draw up a long-term strategy for the floor’s four entitlements that would guarantee basic income security for children; access to some social assistance for people of working age that prevents them from falling into absolute food poverty; a basic old-age pension for people over a certain age; and essential health services for all.