At the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) of July 2016, the initiative was taken to draft a Global Charter for 'Universal Social Protection Rights'. These principles for universal social protection systems, by all and for all, are promoted as a reference for national and local movements organising their diverse social struggles.
The initiative to draft a Global Charter for Social Protection Rights emerged at the AEPF (Asia-Europe People’s Forum) at Ulaan Baator, Mongolia, in July 2016.
The aim is to use these texts – a full text and its synthesis – for a campaign to strengthen the already existing initiatives of the ILO’s Social Protection Floor and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
One may wonder, why a new text and why a new initiative? First, we already have indeed an International Covenant on economic and social rights, and there are several regional treaties or conventions. However, we do not have a specific text about rights to a universal, transformative social protection.
We welcome and support the ILO Recommendation on Social Protection Floors, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals, although we think these initiatives wil be difficult to implement within the current policy frameworks. We fully support the Global Coalition on Social Protection Rights.
Our main objective therefore is to promote a different philosophy on social protection, one that goes beyond the traditional rights, that encompasses environmental needs and bridges the unacceptable gap between production and reproduction. In our perspective, social protection is a commons, emerging from the democratic and participatory actions of citizens with demands for public authorities.
Social protection is not a correction mechanism for the economic system, but should be transformative, that is, contribute to a better productive system and to the sustainability of life. We see social protection as a collective and democratic endeavour for achieving a life in dignity for all.
This is not a text with demands, but with principles. Demands can differ from country to country, depending on the priorities of local groups. We hope these principles can serve as a reference for all movements concerned about social justice.
The core persons having worked at this initiative are:
- Maris dela Cruz, Manila, Network for Transformative Social Protection
- Armando De Negri, Sao Paulo, World Social Forum on Health and Social Security
- Koen De Tavernier, Brussels, social potection expert
- Tina Ebro, Manila, Asia Europe People’s Forum
- Chandan Kumar, New Delhi, Action Aid India
- Meena Menon, New Delhi, researcher
- Francine Mestrum, Brussels, Global Social Justice
The UN has developed a major set of rights, more particularly a Universal Declaration on Human Rights and an International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, including a right to an adequate standard of living and to social security and social insurance. In 1952, the ILO (International Labour Organisation) adopted a convention (C102) with minimum standards for social security. Nevertheless, three quarters of the world population do not enjoy comprehensive social protection and half of the world population has no social protection at all.
More recently, the ILO adopted a Recommendation on national social protection floors (R202), whereas the UN General Assembly adopted a programme for Sustainable Development Goals, including social protection and the fight against inequality.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, inequality, precariousness and vulnerability are increasing. Social protection should ensure for all people, during his/her entire life cycle, a sufficiently large income and access to quality social services, to make sure they can cope with the risks and events of life. It should consist of a coherent set of solidarity based, structural and collective initiatives and measures that will guarantee individual and collective rights. It is aimed at social justice, a basic condition for peace, as well as at sustainable and human development and security, providing all people with an opportunity for a life in dignity.
To realize the right to universal social protection for all and to fight inequality, we therefore propose the following principles, as guidance for all groups preparing their strategies for social struggles:
- Embed the right to social protection in national legislation and laws
Public authorities have the primary responsibility to guarantee social protection. The latter is to be rights-based and be organised on a non-profit basis. All countries should ratify and implement the relevant treaties and conventions and embed the right to social protection in their national laws.
- Respect Core Labour Standards and eliminate all discriminations
Social protection systems should include the ILO Core Labour standards, an adequate level of living wages as well as social assistance levels. They should eliminate all discriminations based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion or sexual orientation. They should include a series of social services, such as a right to water, education, public transport, energy and communication, housing, vocational training, etc.
- Guarantee solidarity based and redistributive financing mechanisms for universal social protection
Social protection is affordable, even in the poorest countries, when there is sufficient political will. Sufficient means to implement a well-developed social protection system should be provided at the national and international level. However, unfair tax policies, nationally and internationally, reduce the capacity of countries to invest in social protection and essential public services. More international action is needed to stop these destructive tendencies.
- Involve citizens and social movements in the development and governance of social protection systems
The design, development, monitoring and evaluation of national and international policies for social protection should be a participatory, inclusive and democratic process. Social organisations, such as trade unions, solidarity based health mutuals, organisations of farmers and small businesses and informal sector and domestic workers know best what the real needs of citizens are. Public support for social protection systems can be created by organizing myriad of structural social dialogue opportunities.
- Set up coherent policies to strengthen social protection systems at national, regional and international level
Social protection is part of a reproduction process that cannot be de-linked from a production process: both should be aimed at the right to life in dignity as well as the sustainability of life. Public policies in all fields therefore have an impact on countries’ capacities to implement comprehensive and universal social protection systems that include environmental and agricultural policies, trade and investment agreements, etc. International financial institutions and international cooperation in general have a substantial responsibility as pertains enabling States to provide social protection for all and must thus be held responsible.
Hoping that these principles aimed at universal social protection systems for all can be a reference for national and local movements and groups organizing their social struggles always fitting them to the respective national realities.
We, progressive social movements, concerned with the growing social distress of people all over the world and faced with multiple problems of war, environmental degradation and climate change, rising inequalities and persistent poverty, economic crises, austerity policies and growing authoritarianism, erosion of all human rights, discrimination and intolerance, hereby plead for universal social protection to be taken as a tool for peace and social justice:
Recalling the old truth that peace is not possible without social justice, as was stated already in the Constitution of the ILO in 1919.
Recalling that the community of nations has developed a major set of rights, more particularly a Universal Declaration on Human Rights, two international Covenants on political and civil rights, on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other hand, including a right to an adequate standard of living. Other legal instruments include more specific rights of children, women and indigenous people, as well as a right to development. These rights are universal, indivisible and inalienable.
Recalling, furthermore, that many of these rights have been adopted by regional charters, conventions and declarations and that the ILO has adopted a series of conventions, recommendations and declarations on specific economic and social rights, more particularly a Convention on the minimum standards for social security in 1952, a programme on decent work, a set of Core Labour Standards, a Declaration on Social Justice and a recommendation on national social protection floors in 2012.
Recalling, finally, that the United Nations, in its many global conferences and more recently in its 2015 programme for Sustainable Development Goals has recognized the need for social protection and the reduction of inequalities, people’s social rights as well as their link with environmental policies and rights.
Considering that social protection is justified by a social justice imperative, by aiming at sustainable human development and security, providing all people with an opportunity for a life in dignity.
Considering that social protection consists of measures aimed at reconciling civil and political citizenship, based on equality, with economic and social citizenship rights and the equal worth of all individuals.
Considering that social protection is intrinsically linked to a social process of structural social solidarity and is not a concept of charity.
Considering that social protection is a very broad concept, going beyond poverty reduction, social security and social assistance, and is aimed at eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities and ensuring decent livelihoods for all.
Considering that social protection is part of a reproduction process that cannot be de-linked from a production process while both should be aimed at the sustainability of life. This means that the components of social protection cannot be conceived of separately from the economic activities in their broadest sense.
Considering, therefore, that social protection must consist of material and immaterial elements, monetary allowances and additional in-kind support where appropriate, Â social services, environmental resources and factors of production.
Considering that major parts of social protection can and are to be realized immediately, though other parts will necessarily be realized in a progressive way, depending on available resources.
Considering that social protection is a primary responsibility of States, while some responsibilities are to be taken by subnational authorities and social organisations, a substantial contribution is to be provided by international solidarity. International financial organisations must therefore duly take into account the need for resources for social policies.
Considering that social protection can only fulfil the needs of people if it comes about in a participatory and democratic way, involving citizens and reflecting the diversity of their means and needs as a precondition for human development.
Deploring that as of today, globally, only 27 % of people have access to comprehensive social security systems.
Deploring that the neoliberal globalisation has pushed countries into a race to the bottom, diminishing fiscal means, deregulating labour markets, reducing taxes and cutting social expenditures.
Deploring that the current economic and debt crisis, followed and deepened by austerity policies and growing authoritarianism have seriously eroded economic and social rights the world over.
Deploring that labour markets are faced with negative developments of growing informalisation, precariousness and vulnerability.
Deploring that the welfare states in a certain number of countries have not adapted to the fundamental changes of economies and societies of the past decades.
Stating that the current and future technological developments will have major consequences for labour markets that need to be tackled, amongst others, with measures of social protection.
Welcoming the most recent international initiatives on social protection, such as the ILO Recommendation on social protection floors and the Sustainable Development Goals, stressing the need for their effective implementation.
We therefore agree to state that the right of all people, all over the world, to universal and comprehensive social protection systems must be based on the following principles:
- Social protection systems should be rights- and solidarity-based, embedded in national laws, and defined as a primary responsibility of public authorities.
- Social protection mechanisms should be organized on a non-profit basis.
- States are to guarantee comprehensive social protection systems through sustainable and solidarity-based financing, fair social contribution systems, fair and progressive tax policies and international solidarity mechanisms.
- Social protection mechanisms, as homogeneous as possible, should be made available for all citizens and residents, throughout the life cycle, independent of labour market status, even if benefits, rights and obligations can differ according to national contexts, agreements and sectors.
- Social protection mechanisms should at least respect the norms of ILO convention 102 of 1952, that is including health insurance, medical care and sickness benefits, unemployment benefits, labour accident insurance and benefits, pensions, family and maternity benefits, invalidity allowances, survivorâ€™s benefits.
- Social protection mechanisms should also consist of a series of social services, to be agreed on at the national level, but at least comprehend a right to water, to education (up to tertiary level), public transport, energy and communication, housing and vocational training.
- States should adopt the decent work programme of the ILO, as well as the core labour standards comprising more particularly the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining, social dialogue, banning of the worst forms of child labour and of forced labour.
- States should adopt, with the involvement of social partners, living minimum wages that guarantee decent livelihoods for, all workers. States should adopt adequate social assistance mechanisms so as to avoid that people fall into poverty.
- States should take the necessary measures so as to eliminate the gender gap in labour participation, status and pay.
- States are to ensure non-contributory pensions and other allowances for people who are unable to participate in the labour market.
- States should take the necessary measures so as to eliminate all discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion or sexual orientation.
- States should take the necessary measures so as to avoid social dumping and reduce informality and precariousness, adopting clear rules for the emerging ´collaborative´ economy and the dependent self-employed , redefining and appropriately measuring ´labour´, ’employment’, ‘self-employment’ and domestic work, and introduce adequate systems of labour inspection.
- States should take the necessary measures as to guarantee everyone’s livelihood, including the protection of the common goods and a right to land for peasants
- States should take the necessary measures to provide social protection during humanitarian crises, to assist displaced people, internally and refugees, as well as to adequately regulate migration and to provide safe ways to travel for both refugees and labour migrants, guaranteeing basic human rights at all times.
- In the development of their social protection mechanisms States are to fully involve representative social partners and civil society, so that the agreed arrangements can be considered their own; social partners and citizens should also be involved in the management and monitoring of the systems. Informal social protection mechanisms can be supported and should not be undermined by a formalisation process.
- So as to make democratic citizen’s participation possible, States and social movements should organize political education and training sessions at the national and the local level, so as to make people aware of their rights, the mechanisms to demand the full realization of their rights and the way social protection is organized and financed.
- States should organize the financing of their social protection systems in such a way that all income categories contribute in a fair and equitable way, the strongest shoulders bearing the largest burden.
- In their international trade, investment and other agreements, States should include binding rules concerning human rights, environmental and labour rights, as well as fair and progressive tax systems.
- States should organize their social protection mechanisms in such a way that they lead to social and economic transformation, leading to just, fair and sustainable societies, preserving human and natural life.
Hoping that these principles for universal social protection systems, by all and for all, can be a reference for national and local movements and groups organizing their social struggles.
by Francine Mestrum, Brussels
Social protection is high on the international agenda to-day. In 2012 the ILO (International Labour Organisation) adopted a recommendation on ‘social protection floors’. In 2015 the international community in the General Assembly of the UN (United Nations) adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a separate chapter on inequality, and explicit mention of social protection and several components of social protection in different points of the text.
Nevertheless, we should not be too optimistic about all people everywhere getting living wages, good health care, quality education, maternity protection, pensions, etc.
Problems with social protection
Three major difficulties arise on the road towards universal social protection.
First, neoliberalism is far from dead. The IMF still refuses to recognize a rights-based approach and universalism in social protection. According to the neoliberal paradigm, States should only care for the poor, whereas non-poor can buy their insurances on the market. At the same time, the IMF is active in a great number of low-income countries and continues to impose its austerity policies with indicative targets for social spending. Its recommendations to governments concern mainly better targeting and rationalizing expenditures. Neoliberalism is not compatible with universal social protection.
A second reason concerns the ILO social protection floors. If these could be realized, they would be a tremendous progress for all people, no doubt about that. But there is little chance that the ILO ever can impose its views as long as neoliberal policies are in place. Furthermore, the necessary compromise that was made at the tripartite international organization implies a rather minimal protection. Again, social protection floors could be a tremendous progress for people, but they will not allow to bring about real social transformation. Their claim to universalism is somewhat ambiguous. They will not change the system.
A third reason concerns a new debate that is now emerging in rich as well as poor countries: basic income. A basic income is an allowance given by public authorities to all citizens, whether working or not working, whether rich or poor. It is easy to see that if such an allowance is high enough to make a life in dignity possible, it becomes very expensive and would certainly lead to the abandonment of social protection measures and public services. If it is not high enough, it opens the door to more precarious and temporary work.
The basic income is defended by people from the right as well as from the left, with different expectations. In the given relations of power, there is little doubt that right-wing approaches prevail and the basic income might become a way of putting an end to all government responsibility for the welfare of people. A better solution might be to work for a guaranteed minimum income for all people who need it and maintain the structural and horizontal solidarity of social protection: from all according to means, to all according to needs.
What does social protection mean?
This being said, social protection cannot be defended today without a serious reflection on what it should mean and how it should be organized.
Today, systems are very different, with a high degree of development in most countries of Western Europe and very limited systems, paid for by worker’s contributions or by public authorities – taxes – in many countries of the South.
There are two major problems with the existing systems.
The first is that in many cases they are highly complicated with a large amount of different programmes for specific groups in society. In the South, these different programmes are not always integrated into one single system, what makes it even more difficult to know what your rights are and how you can claim them. In the North, especially in Western Europe, social protection has often become highly bureaucratic and however effective it still is, people do not know anymore where it comes from and how it works. This leads to an important alienation which allows neoliberal governments to change it and cut back on expenditures. In fact, it is a problem of democratic deficit.
The second problem is that labour markets are now changing very rapidly. The so-called ‘sharing economy’ already contributed to the emergence of a large group of precarious workers that have to be added to an already important informal sector, especially in the South. The robotization of large parts of the economy might make more and more workers redundant and that could mean that the existing social protection systems cannot answer all needs anymore. Moreover, many young people do not mind to have flexible and temporary jobs, if only they get decent wages and the necessary insurances. At any rate, economies and societies have changed a lot in the past decades and social protection systems built after the second world war need a serious update.
Social commons might offer a solution to all these different problems.
The concept of commons is now well understood and used for a variety of activities and practices that are far from new. It is now used by progressive forces wanting to take the life of people and of societies into their own hands, beyond markets and States but not necessarily without markets and States. Commons can concern self-organised kindergartens or urban agriculture as well as self-managed enterprises or housing projects.
In a political approach to commons, the concept does not refer to things with intrinsic characteristics, but are the things that a political community decides to be our commons. ‘Commons’ are not ‘common goods’. The best example to show the difference is water. Water clearly is a common good, we all need it and have a right to it. But water will only become a ‘common’ when a political community, at whatever level, decides to consider water is a common, regulates the access to it, monitors its use, etc. It is a fundamentally democratic and participatory co-activity, always the consequence of collaboration between people. Commoners then, will be social and political actors that decide on what in their community – at whatever level, local, national, regional or global – has to be considered as commons. It is a profoundly emancipatory exercise with responsibilities for all.
Commons then are a collective process and a decision to define something as a common, to define the rules and institutions to make this common available to all. It always is strictly regulated, it is more than ‘a good’ or ‘a thing’.
It is clear to see that many things can become commons, in the first place in the economic sphere: production, our environment, our food, money, human rights, our democracy … and of course re-production.
What is new about it is not so much the process itself, since it has always happened, but the language we can now use to resist neoliberalism, privatization and appropriation. The commoning process is the opposite, it does not abolish ownership, but it abolishes the absolute rights that are linked to this ownership. It is about the access to and the use of something.
Social commons could be seen as a tautology, since commons necessarily are social, as the result of co-activity. But social commons also point to the dual sense of ‘social’, referring to society as well as to the collective social needs and rights of individuals. Social commons are for society by society, they concern social resources such as health, education, labour, etc. and focus on their collective dimension.
A proposal for conceiving of social protection as social commons is based on the knowledge that current social protection already is a collective property of workers that promoted and enhanced their citizenship. So there are obvious reasons to consider social protection a common. It will allow three elements of progress.
A transformative project
Social commons will allow to democratize the debate on social protection. Organizing people, from the local to the regional, the national and the global level, in order to discuss the really existing needs and the best way to fulfil these needs will help to re-appropriate policies. Health care needs are not the same in a village in the South as in cities in the North and till now health care systems have not always been built on the basis of what is needed for public health. Too many corporate interests are involved. The same goes for education. In some places more will be needed for elderly people or for children than in others. Special measures may be necessary for migrants and refugees. Informal sector work and unemployment will have to be examined in order to find the best answers within a local context. All this needs a democratic and participatory approach.
Seeing social protection as a social common basically means to democratize it, to allow people to co-decide on its organisation, access and funding. It is obvious that trade unions will have to play a major role in this but other organisations will have to be closely involved as well, such as those representing elderly people, or disabled people, migrants or refugees. Social protection should not only be for workers but for the whole of society, including self-employed people and young mothers.
Secondly, considering social protection as a common will allow to broaden and strengthen social and economic rights. The whole debate with the advocates of basic income has put into the open many problems that are currently not taken into account. First of all, social and economic rights should be individualised, all people who have no labour market income should have a guaranteed minimum income, pensioners as well as ill, disabled or unemployed people. Social protection systems should be de-bureaucratized and simplified, giving protection to all and abandoning the too fragmented organisation of current social programmes.
New rights should also be examined: a right to water and a right to land, e.g. The land community trusts that are now emerging in Europe are a good example of how building can be dissociated from the land so as to make housing cheaper. But land is also important for farmers who cannot support their livelihoods without access to it. Some environmental rights, then, have to be added to the traditional social and economic rights..
Finally, social commons can contribute to systemic change if we make social protection transformative. It belongs to the reproductive sector of the economy and this re-production includes the unpaid care work of women. In the past decades, part of this care work has been commodified and monetized, while the unpaid care work still remains outside economic theorizing. However, it is easy to see that re-production cannot be separated from production, it produces (use) value in the same way as production. Feminist thinkers have contested this exclusion and demand that care work be fully integrated into the thinking and the measurement of the value created by the economy.
Care work is not the only element that has been externalized, nature is not taken into account either when measuring economic value, until extraction is happening. In this way, many resources have almost been depleted, because the regeneration – where possible – was not taken care of. Environmentalists demand that nature also be integrated in the economic sphere.
If we consider natural resources and care resources – essential for satisfying our needs and corresponding to economic and social rights – as commons, the whole picture can change. It can fundamentally change economic theories in terms of wealth and value creation. Natural resources, even not extracted and without intrinsic economic value, are our common goods, our wealth, whereas care also means wealth. Both are necessary for satisfying our needs and for the value creation through extraction and production.
From that it follows that one easily comes to the conclusion that the whole economy should be about ‘care’: care for nature and care for people. Nature nor care workers can be over-exploited. They are needed for production, which means one has to take care of them. Which also means production – the economy – should be about care in order to survive. This is particularly true in a commons approach where all bear responsibility for the whole and where rights cannot be ignored without hurting all. The economy should produce in function of the needs and possibilities of people and nature.
It is obvious that public health cannot be preserved if multinational corporations can use toxic products in agriculture or put ggo’s on our plate. Local commons for healthy and eco-friendly communities are useless if they work in the shadow of major polluting factories. This is the main challenge: to re-conceptualize social protection so as to make it an instrument not only for protecting people and societies – threatened by neoliberalism – but also for contributing to systemic change. Obviously, social policies alone will not be sufficient for changing economic policies, but they can change the power relations in society and, if pursued in a coherent way, point to the inconsistencies that characterise current policies. If they can be promoted in parallel with economic and ecological proposals, they will be able to contribute to a better world.
All this implies other power relations. Right-wing governments will not be willing to introduce emancipatory, empowering and transformative systems, especially in the emerging authoritarian context.
Therefore, social and economic rights should be the major focus of all progressive forces, in the same way as they have been in the past. This is the only possibility for broadening the audience and change politics. People, everywhere in the world and in whatever regime they live, need protection, either by police and the military, or by social, ecological and economic policies and rights that preserve and enhance their livelihoods. In this way, the sustainability of life, of people and of nature, can be preserved, which should be the overarching objective of all policies.
Social commons are not a ‘social dimension’ of globalisation or of regional integration, they should be an objective for enhancing the welfare of people in an ecological sustainable way. What it is about, in fact, is ‘caring’, for people, for nature, for society.
Original source: Global Social Protection Charter
Image credit: social protection for all, hronlineph com