February 20th marks World Day of Social Justice.Each year, there is a particular focus area under the broad term of social justice. Read on to find out more about this year’s agenda for change and progression.

A United Nations initiative, the first World Social Justice Day took place in 2009 with the aim of rallying the international community in the eradication of poverty, the promotion of full employment and social justice for all. The UN General Assembly invited member states to devote this day each year to promoting national activities which support the efforts of the international community in promoting social justice, the very core of the United Nations’ work.

So what exactly is meant by social justice? The UN defines it as “the principle for peaceful and prosperous co-existence” a mechanism to promote gender equality and the rights of indigenous people and migrants. It is about removing barriers that may exist due to a person’s gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability, creating a level playing field where everyone has the same opportunities for development and ultimately for success in their lives: “With exclusion and inequality on the rise, we must step up efforts to ensure that all people, without discrimination, are able to access opportunities to improve their lives and those of others.” Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General.

In observing World Day for Social Justice, nations are offering their support for the efforts of the international community in eradicating poverty, promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equality and access to justice for all.

Each year, there is a particular focus area under the broad term of social justice. In 2015, this focus was ending human trafficking and forced labour, including modern slavery which sees workers forced into manual labour or prostitution for little or no pay. This focus has now been ingrained in UK law with the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act, recognition that slavery is not an historical or a remote concept but is happening right here in the modern day UK.

The focus for 2016 is ‘A Just Transition: environmentally sustainable economies and societies’. This year is about sharing a new vision for the economy, one that is crucial if we, the international community that is, are to achieve sustainable prosperity. The aim is two-fold: promote social equity whilst also significantly reducing environmental risk factors. According to the UN, a shift in mind-set is necessary to recognise that the real goal here is not materialist consumption, but sustainable human well-being. If this sounds too idealistic to be true, we are pointed back to the simple point that national economies cannot continue to grow indefinitely on a finite planet. Many developed countries already far exceed what they are capable of producing just to keep their population alive, relying on imports from less developed nations to bring in food and materials vital for their survival.

The so-called ‘greening’ of economies is an idea that fosters low carbon, environmentally sustainable production and consumption in the holistic battle against climate change. The UN argues that greening economies will also lead to job creation and the possibility of creating decent work for all – essential to the principle of social justice – and that it is an economic model that can be applied to both developed and developing economies. A sort of one size fits all economic approach.

There’s just one problem: International co-operation is essential and that’s something in which we, as the global community, do not have a great track record. It also relies on nations and individuals taking ownership for their part in climate change. How many times have we heard on the news that the planet is dying, or more accurately, that we are destroying it? Traditional energy sources are running out, air quality is dwindling, our seas and rivers are polluted, yet mass consumerism, driving cars and the wasting of precious resources continue.

As the UN is keen to point out, this is not a task that can be tackled alone. Sustainable development needs the active engagement of governments, employers and workers worldwide who all act as change agents adapting their daily lives and priorities in working towards the same common goal of environmental and economic change. Of course there are always those who shirk responsibility for such things, who assume that others will play their part for them. But it’s to be hoped that the influence of the UN can push this agenda in all individual nations who then in turn filter down the concept to their voting populous until the topic is unavoidable.

So this 20th February, it’s time to think like citizens of the world, about how we can all play a part in contributing to the shared goal of sustainability. If each of us can contribute a few small changes the total sum of action is quite considerable. After all, it’s not rocket science: if we want to continue to exist on the planet, we are all going to have to make some changes or there will be no planet left at all for any of us. Perhaps there is some social justice after all?

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