People's Stories Equality

We cannot continue to look away as inequality soars, and those struggling are left to suffer
by Agnes Callamard
Secretary General, Amnesty International
May 2023
Amnesty International is today calling for social security to be made available to everyone worldwide after a series of crises exposed huge gaps in state support and protection systems, leaving hundreds of millions facing hunger or trapped in a cycle of poverty and deprivation.
In a briefing issued today, Rising Prices, Growing Protests: The Case for Universal Social Protection, the human rights organization also calls for international debt relief, and urges states to enact tax reforms and clampdown on tax abuse, to free up substantial funding to pay for social protection.
“A combination of crises has revealed how ill-prepared many states are to provide essential help to people. It is shocking that over 4 billion people, or about 55% of the world’s population, have no recourse to even the most basic social protection, despite the right to social security being enshrined since 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
The briefing shows how rising food prices, climate change, and the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are driving a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, and leading to increased social unrest and protests.
It urges states to ensure that social security coverage — such as sickness and disability payments, healthcare provision, pensions for older people, child support, family benefits and income support — is available to every person who may need it.
The briefing shows how the lack of social security in many states has left communities more exposed to sudden economic shocks, the consequences of conflict, climate change, or other upheaval. The fallout from these crises, including widespread hunger, higher unemployment and anger at falling living standards, has motivated protests around the world, which have often been brutally suppressed.
“Universal social protection can address the violations of economic and social rights that are often at the heart of grievances and protest. Instead of viewing peaceful protest as an expression of people’s attempts to claim their rights, authorities have frequently responded to demonstrations with unnecessary or excessive use of force. Peaceful protest is a human right and Amnesty International campaigns to Protect the Protest,” said Agnes Callamard.
The briefing calls for international creditors to reschedule or cancel debts to enable them to better fund social protection. It also highlights that the cost of offering basic social security protection in all low income and low-to-middle income states is estimated at US$440.8 billion a year, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), an amount that is less than the US$500 billion the Tax Justice Network estimated is lost annually by states to tax havens around the world.
Amnesty International urges states to work together and to use all their resources, as well as reform of their taxation systems to stop evasion and loss of critical revenues, to help ensure funds are available to improve social protection.
“People have been brought to their knees by these crises, and when it comes to fixing the problems in the world, the solutions are rarely simple, but we do know that states should get serious about clamping down on tax abuse,” said Agnes Callamard.
To guarantee the right to social security, Amnesty International supports the establishment of an internationally administered Global Fund for Social Protection, a program supported by UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, the UN Secretary-General and the ILO.
The creation of a fund would offer states technical and financial support to provide social security and would aim to build the capacity of national social protection systems to scale up their responses in times of crisis.
The lack of adequate social security can be catastrophic for the growing numbers of people struggling to afford food.
The World Food Programme (WFP) says 349 million people around the world are in immediate danger from a shortage of food, and 828 million go to bed hungry every night.
Furthermore, according to the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022, the Covid-19 pandemic has wiped out almost four years of progress in poverty reduction and pushed an additional 93 million people into extreme poverty, living on less than US$ 2.15 a day.
The lack of effective measures to mitigate inflation and shortages has led to a downward spiral in people’s living standards. This has contributed to protests around the world recently, including in Iran, Sierra Leone, and Sri Lanka.
The rising price of food and other essential items has hit people living in low-income countries the hardest, but the increased use of food banks in wealthier countries shows that the cost-of-living and food affordability crisis is widespread.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major grain producer, has dealt a devastating blow to global food supplies, and pushed the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food price index to its highest point since records began in 1990.Climate change, and spiralling fertilizer prices, have hit agricultural production too. Drought is the greatest single contributor to reduced harvests, according to the FAO.
Amnesty International is part of a growing coalition of experts and civil society organizations calling on states to progressively deliver universal social protection, and to realize the benefits it will bring.
Agnes Callamard said: “Protecting people against losses due to shocks, from disasters or economic reversals, can be transformational, both for society and the state that provides the support, by reducing social tension and conflict, and promoting recovery. It enables children to stay in education, improves healthcare, reduces poverty and income inequality, and ultimately benefits societies economically.
“We cannot continue to look away as inequality soars, and those struggling are left to suffer. Tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance by individuals and corporations are depriving states and particularly lower income countries of the resources they need.”
High levels of debt, and the cost of servicing it, mean that heavily indebted states often lack the financial capacity to realize social security aspirations. Low-income countries spend four times more on debt repayments than they do on health service provision, and 12 times more on debt payments than on social protection, according to Oxfam.
According to the IMF’s annual report around 60% of low-income countries are in debt distress or at a high risk of debt distress, and risk defaulting on repayments. Debt cancellation or rescheduling would free up substantial funding in many countries to pay for social protection.

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Inequality is a barrier to social justice
by ILO, Coalition for Social Protection Floors
Feb. 2023
A combination of mutually-reinforcing crises – inflation, debt, food and fuel price rises, geopolitical tensions and conflict, climate change are increasing poverty, inequality and discrimination worldwide.
Around the world people are struggling to recover from the socioeconomic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated lives and deepened inequalities.
Women’s share of total incomes from work is less than 35 per cent, just a five per cent rise relative to 1990. 214 million workers live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.90 a day, and the number of working poor is increasing in developing countries.
Far too many people are forced to eke out a living on less than $2.00 a day without rights and social protection and little prospects for a better future.
Poverty and inequalities within and among countries are on the rise in many parts of the world. Inequality remains very high, with annual gross domestic product per capita ranging from about $600 at purchasing power parity in the poorest country to more than $115,000 in the richest country.
The top 10 per cent of the global population currently takes 52 per cent of global income, whereas the poorest half earns 6.5 per cent of it.
Some 290 million young people globally are not in education, employment, or training, while two billion people work in the informal economy. Unstable jobs and income, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions and no social protection led to a disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these workers that saw their earnings drop by 60 per cent in 2020.
The world needs a strong and sustained dose of social justice says ILO's Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo:
"We have the 5%, 10% of the richest in the world that sees their wealth keep growing. Then on the other hand, when you talk about 50% of the world's population with zero social protection, you have more than 200 million people, workers that are remaining poor despite 40 hours of work. They cannot secure a $1.90 per day. Working poverty, the working poor.
With COVID, I remember very well, how striking it was when we, that were living in this part of the world were vaccinated at the rate of 70%. When I called my family back home in Togo, the vaccination was maybe at 5%.
It's important to bring social justice back on the front line. The very important thing is really fighting against inequalities, discrimination, ensuring every human being should have same opportunity. Having decent work and dignifying work, people are not asking more than that. Having a minimum protection, what the ILO calls the social protection floors, is part of the social justice.
Let's be very clear. Social justice goes beyond ILO mandate. The right to food security. The right to health. Access to water and sanitation, access to education, having the freedom, the voice to express what one feels, or work safely. I can go on. Gender equality and inclusion. The right to social protection.
Essentially, we need to ensure that our life, our social contracts are balanced, that we don't create too much inequalities. What's the value of making financial progress just to end up by fueling 5% of the richest and having the majority of people still in the dark?"
Feb. 2023 (UN WebTV)
Promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its resolution 49/19, the UN Human Rights Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to convene a three-day workshop to bring together key stakeholders for a discussion on practical ways to further enhance and strengthen the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch video sessions from the 3 day workshop:
Feb. 2023
Inequality is a barrier to social justice. (UNRISD)
There is perhaps no stronger evidence of the pressing need to redesign our global system than the fact that a global health crisis doubled the wealth of the 10 richest men in the world while sending upwards of 120 million people into extreme poverty. This UNRISD Flagship Report shows how inequalities and crises reinforce and compound each other, leading to extreme disparity, vulnerability and unsustainability. It argues that this is not the result of a broken system but one in which inequality and injustice are built in by design. The social contract has broken down to the great detriment of people and planet.
The report associates the multiple crises and increasing inequalities we are facing with policy choices promoted during the age of neoliberal hyperglobalization. It unpacks the implications for sustainable development and for disadvantaged social groups through the lenses of intersectionality and power.
To address inequality, break the cycle of multiple and interlocking crises, and work toward a more equal, just and sustainable future, the report proposes the creation of a new eco-social contract and a policy approach based on alternative economies, transformative social policies, and reimagined multilateralism and strengthened solidarities.
Jan. 2023
On the Road to 2025: A New Social Contract with Universal Social Protection and Full Employment and Decent Work for all.
The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) welcomes the theme of the 61st Session of the UN Commission on Social Development: ‘Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’
The realization of this optimistic theme presumes a conducive socio-political-economic-human rights informed environment. The reality is that the global community is living through very turbulent times with ‘code red’ alarm bells sounding for the very survival of the planet.
The ongoing economic effects of COVID-19, increasing hunger, ongoing war, displacement of people, and climate change, coupled with runaway inflation, are entrenching more and more people in poverty and further increasing inequality. This current situation has knocked us off track in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The recent report in the Third Committee by Mr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, highlighted povertyism” and “negative attitudes and behaviours towards people living in poverty that restrict people’s access to employment, housing, health care, education and social protection - the very tools put in place to support them out of poverty.”
Commitment 3 of the Copenhagen Declaration and Platform for Action (1995): ‘promoting the goal of full employment as a basic priority of our economic and social policies, and enabling all men and women to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods through freely chosen productive employment and work’, has failed miserably in the context of the global reality twenty-eight years later.
One of the main reasons for this failure has been the lack of critical analysis of the impacts of dominant systems and structures and how these actually facilitate exploitation, perpetuate inequality, ignore human rights violations, and exclude people in poverty from having equal access and opportunity.
Power imbalances, and unexamined systems and structures are the carriers and drivers of much of the inequality and injustice experienced in today's world. Decision making at the financial, corporate and business levels have not incorporated moral and ethical considerations.
A paradigm shift is required from long-established sets of concepts, mindsets and ‘business as usual’ approaches that have informed and shaped policies in the past but are now contributing to and exacerbating gross inequalities, while normalizing exploitation and violating workers’ rights and human rights.
Alongside the technological and scientific developments, we need a corresponding shift in consciousness at the individual, corporate, societal and governmental levels- a shift informed by moral and ethical principles that are inclusive and life enhancing for all people and the planet.
The Copenhagen Declaration, with its principles, ten commitments and platform for action, is informed by moral and ethical principles. The same moral and ethical compass guided the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDGs 1, 5, 8 and 10 are at the centre and aim to promote inclusion and reduce inequalities.
While the implementation of Social Protection including floors had been gaining traction prior to the pandemic, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Flagship Report, Social Protection Report 2020-22, underlines the fact that COVID-19 provoked an unparalleled social protection policy response to protect people’s health, jobs and incomes, and to ensure social stability.
It further states that establishing universal social protection and realizing the human right to social security for all is the cornerstone of a human-centred approach to obtaining social justice. Doing so contributes to preventing poverty, containing inequality, and enhancing human capabilities and productivity. Social Protection also fosters human dignity, solidarity and fairness, and reinvigorates the social contract.
Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all is integral to an ethical and moral vision. However, the informality of work appears to be growing worldwide and becoming the new normal, with over sixty percent of the global workforce supporting themselves in this way, hoping to meet their basic daily needs without health coverage, social insurance, or access to maternity or sick leave. In Africa this figure can be as high as eighty percent.
Further, these informal workers do not have voice and representation for their interests, and are often prohibited from unionizing. While this has been the norm in emerging economies, today the trend is on the rise in more developed and globalized economies, in the form of deregulation, outsourcing, and flex and temp work. All of this erodes the dignity of the person and violates human rights and opportunities for decent work conditions.
The globalized nature of finance, investment and business ventures is facilitating this erosion with exploitative practices against people and the planet itself.
The ILO has long sought to implement a decent work agenda, stressing that a transition to the formal economy is a pre-condition to realize decent work for all. A specific statistical indicator, SDG 8.3.1, on moving from an informal economy, seeks to measure efforts towards formalization of the economy.
The expert group meeting papers, in preparation for the Commission for Social Development 61st Session, outlined the many variations and complexities within the informal economy and how it is now imperative that Member States tackle the issue and formalize decent work.
An ILO Publication ‘Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture’ by Florence Bonnet, Vicky Leung and Juan Chacaltana note that poverty is a cause and consequence of informality - people in poverty face higher rates of informality, and there are higher poverty rates among workers in informal employment compared to workers in formal employment.
Women are doubly exploited - firstly within the informal economy, and secondly with the burden of unpaid care work undertaken in the family and community.
‘Creating employment and decent work in new and growing sectors: Care Economy’, a presentation by Dipa Sinha, points to the unpaid nature of much care work, and to the informality that exists in the sector. The care economy is growing with increasing demand for childcare and care for older persons in all regions.
While this sector is characterized by lack of benefits and protections, extremely low wages or non-compensation, and exposure to physical, mental and, in some cases, sexual harm, it has the potential to be reorganized and set within in a decent work agenda.
It is clear that new solutions to the provision of care are needed on two fronts: in regards to the nature and provision of care policies and services, and in the terms and conditions of care work.
The multiple and complex challenges being surfaced during the review on informality can be addressed through the launch of global social dialogues that require a whole of government and whole of society approach in elucidating and defining a new social contract. This new contract requires a moral and ethical foundation upholding the dignity of the person, all human rights, and care for the Earth.
Strong political will favouring inclusion, sustainability and accountability principles is called for, with zero tolerance of criminality, exploitative practices and human rights violations.
The words of Mahatma Gandhi, “The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed”, provide an opening statement for promoting global social dialogues.
Ensure Universal Social Protection as a right for every person. Governments and the international community will ensure that the budgetary resources to finance adequate social protection floors are guaranteed everywhere on the basis of national and, if necessary, international solidarity.
Accelerate the shift from informality to formality with full recognition and acceptance of the four pillars of decent work: promoting jobs and enterprise, guaranteeing rights at work, extending social protection, and promoting social dialogue. These pillars are basic to the inclusion of all, particularly people in informal work.
Hold Governments and all employers accountable for every infringement of worker rights, including the exploitative engagement of child laborers.
Engage a whole of Government and whole of society approach in the lead up to a second social summit – a summit that enhances the principles and commitments of the Copenhagen Declaration, and provide a relevant strategic framework for the transformation of systems, structures and gender relations towards a more equitable, inclusive, sustainable way of relating with one another and the planet.
End conflicts and war, which generate enormous profits for those who engage in the arms trade. Instead, invest in enhancing the well-being of people and planet through financing universal social protection, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and loss and damage.

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