In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly celebrated the first World Day of Social Justice on February 20th. Every year since, the World Day focuses on an area of social justice and how it impacts the world. By becoming more aware of issues like inequality and poverty, the world can be a place where no one is discriminated against based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, class, or culture. The theme for 2021 is “A Call for Social Justice in the Digital Economy.”
What is the digital economy?
Also known as the “internet economy” or “new economy,” the digital economy is an economy based on digital computing technologies. It’s growing rapidly and transforming the world of work. Through the expansion of cloud computing, data, and broadband connectivity, the world has many digital platforms that play a major role in society and economies. Because of the integration of mobile technology and the internet into economic activities, it’s becoming harder and harder to separate the digital economy from the traditional economy. It’s clear that things are changing, however. Every day, there are billions of interactions (and transactions) all around the world within the digital economy.
The pandemic’s impact on the digital economy
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the ability to work remotely, continue business, and create new businesses proves just how important the digital economy has become. While the global economy contracted by 4.4%, digitalization grew. The digital economy was already expanding, but the pandemic accelerated it. Faced with the threat of lockdowns and inequitable recovery – like limited access to treatments and vaccines – there’s an increased urgency for digital innovations. Remote work, online retail, and distance learning all require constantly-improving technologies. Things like artificial intelligence, high-speed internet, and machine learning are progressing quickly. According to data, digitally-enabled platform business models will account for 70% of new value created in the economy over the next ten years. For businesses to survive and thrive, they’ll need to participate in the digital economy.
What does the digital economy have to do with social justice?
The digital economy has opened new opportunities for many, including women, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, and young people. Digitalization can improve an organization’s operations, worker productivity, and reach. At the same time, there are many challenges, especially when it comes to social justice. The first issue is the access divide within and across both developed and developing countries. About 47% of the world doesn’t use the internet. To gain access to the digital economy, people need resources like an internet connection, certain software, smartphones, laptops, and so on. The affordability of these tools is of major concern. The cost could ultimately lead to only well-funded organizations and individuals gaining access, while smaller-sized businesses and poor communities are left behind.
In a digital economy, it can also be hard for workers to find consistent jobs and adequate income. There are issues with social protection, worker rights, skills utilization, and the right to join (or form) a trade union. Algorithmic monitoring, which may include workplace surveillance, can threaten worker rights. There are also concerns about the novel nature of digital platforms. Because they’re so new, activities don’t fall under conventional taxation laws or obligations. There’s no global governance for digital labor. As the digital economy grows, the lack of regulation will only increase existing inequality.
What can be done to bring social justice to the digital economy?
For this year’s World Day of Social Justice, conversations focus on social justice and the digital economy. International policy dialogue and coordination will be necessary because the digital economy is global. Platforms operate across country lines and are subject to different laws. In 2019, the International Labor Organization released a report calling for digital platform workers to receive full rights, protection, and collective bargaining rights. To create a consistent, fair, and just digital economy, lawmakers need to come together to take action on the ILO’s recommendations.
Progress on access to digital platforms is also necessary, especially in the global South where the digital infrastructure isn’t yet reliable. Again, international cooperation and coordination are needed. The international community must continue to find and implement solutions that promote sustainable development, the elimination of poverty, gender equality, and other relevant justices.
The World Day of Social Justice: an opportunity to learn and take action
The digital economy may be relatively new, but its challenges are old. Issues like limited access to technology, affordability, and a lack of worker protections have always been around, but they’re playing out in a new arena. The 2021 World Day of Social Justice presents an important opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of the digital economy, its advantages, and its flaws. As the digital economy expands, it will be more important than ever to consider the social justice impacts. The world must work to improve conditions for workers and smaller businesses.
World Day of Social Justice 2020 Themes
Social justice becomes a reality when gender, race, age, ethnicity, culture, religion, and other characteristics are not used to justify discrimination. Everyone within a society deserves fair treatment and equal opportunities. Participation, access, rights, and equity are essential to social justice. In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly named February 20th as the World Day of Social Justice. It was first observed in 2009. Each year, the World Day of Social Justice focuses on how social justice benefits the world. It draws attention to challenges like poverty, inequality, financial crises, and more. What’s the theme for 2020? It’s “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice.”
Why is inequality significant?
Inequality in all its forms inhibits social justice. Addressing gaps is the only way to move forward. Since the 1990s, there’s been some progress. Total global inequality (which measures inequality between all individuals in the world) has started going down, but income inequality within countries is rising. Here are some important facts:
Inequalities go beyond income
How much money someone makes is only one factor that drives inequality. Race, religion, gender, class, age, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation determine inequalities both between and within country borders. The extent of inequality varies. In some countries, gaps are widening, while in others, there’s been a lot of progress.
The income inequality gap between countries is shrinking, but still significant
The good news is that income inequality between countries has been improving in the past 25 years. In developing countries, average incomes are increasing at a good rate. The gap is still large. The average income for someone in North America is 16 times higher than for someone in sub-Saharan Africa.
Within countries, income inequality is worsening
While global income inequality is improving, income inequality within countries has been trending upwards since 1990. 71% of the global population lives in a country where inequality is rising. The World Social Report 2020, which the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs publishes, reveals that income inequality has gone up in most developed countries and some middle-income countries. China, which has the world’s fastest-growing economy, is included in that list. In 2019, less than 3.7% of South Koreans didn’t have a job, but 17.4% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Globally, the majority of wealth is concentrated among a few
While there’s been progress on a global scale, wealth remains concentrated at the top. In a recent report, Oxfam wrote that the number of billionaires has doubled in the past ten years. The world’s 22 wealthiest men have more wealth than all the women in Africa combined. Those in the top 1% see their incomes rise while those in the bottom experience significantly fewer increases.
Who is most affected by inequality?
Certain groups are more vulnerable to the negative effects of inequality. Though there’s been some progress with gender equality, it’s not even across the world. There are still considerable gaps in areas like health, education, and labor. Ethnic and racial minorities, religious minorities, refugees, and migrants also bear the brunt of inequality. Those with disabilities are also more vulnerable.
What drives the inequality gap?
According to the World Social Report 2020, four forces contribute to inequality: technological advancements, climate change, urbanization, and international migration. While new technologies support economic growth and offer more opportunities, it can also increase income inequality. Highly skilled workers benefit from the new jobs created by technological innovation, but low and middle-skilled workers can be negatively affected. Their jobs can become obsolete. If they aren’t given good alternatives, they’re left behind.
Climate change leads to extreme weather events and environmental degradation, which threatens peoples’ homes, livelihoods, and lives. While climate change is a problem for everyone living on the planet, not everyone is affected equally. Those living in the world’s poorest countries and/or those who depend on agriculture and consistent weather patterns are the most vulnerable. Research shows cities are a hotbed for inequality, so it follows that increased urbanization will widen gaps. Inequalities are also exacerbated by barriers to international migration, hostility to migrants, and weakening migrant rights.
The World Day of Social Justice: a time to learn and work for change
The effects of inequality are devastating. They reduce peoples’ life expectancies; affect access to basic rights like healthcare and education; and weaken trust in governments. This distrust sows seeds of conflict, often leading to violence. The World Day of Social Justice is an opportunity to reflect on where we are now and how we can move forward. Sustainable, equitable, and inclusive solutions are necessary. We know that progress is possible, but it’s uneven across the world. There is no single solution that will solve inequality, so it’s vital to consider a region’s specific challenges and needs. The work will be long and difficult. Achieving equality is worth it.