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New Social Compact

The Marriage of Social Media and Social Justice

Devika Khandelwal

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The aggressive use of different online platforms during electoral campaigns has made it evident that many political leaders are widely using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to spread their election mandates and garner widespread support. Moreover, in the past few years, the use of social media has gone beyond politics and has contributed towards starting a global conversation amongst the citizens of the world to spread socially relevant messages and demand justice.

In today’s global world where many countries witness gross violation of human rights and political and social chaos, different online platforms have become a safe place to share their ordeal and demand justice. It is not just used by social workers and activists, but on several occasions ordinary citizens have taken to Twitter, Facebook or Vine to share their stories. Internet provides us with platforms where we can fight for our rights and against injustice, support people from all across the world in gaining justice, and helping people become better informed citizens of the world. The massive explosion of videos, hashtags and photographs on Twitter which are retweeted thousands of times, help people voice their concerns to a billion people in a span of seconds, especially when they think they are not being heard. From #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #BreakTheSilence to #BringBackOurGirls, digital platforms have helped start a social revolution to help marginalised, oppressed and minorities fight for their rights. The internet helps people validate their experiences, share them as they happened without any colourful interpretation by media giants.

Recently, a Saudi Arabian teenager, Rahaf-Al-Qunun escaped from her family while they were on a trip, boarded a flight to Australia via Bangkok to seek asylum. However, she was held at the Bangkok airport by Thai and Saudi authorities and was asked to return to Kuwait where her family was waiting got her. She refused to get on a flight to Kuwait and barricaded herself into a hotel room. She used Twitter to share her story and sent out several tweets requesting for asylum from various countries. Her ordeal was picked up by the Human Rights Watch and journalists from across the world and later in the week, she was granted asylum in Canada.

Another successful social media campaign resulted in the problem of ‘Upskirting’ become a crime in the United Kingdom, after the UK Parliament passed a bill. The issue came to forefront when a woman in the UK was a victim of upskirting during a concert. She shared her story via a Facebook post, which went viral and was picked up and shared by thousands of women, who also shared their experiences. After the overwhelming response, she started an online petition to criminalize upskirting which was signed by over 50,000 people. This petition was picked up by a member of Parliament and was introduced as a Private Members Bill. After overcoming parliamentary obstacles, the bill was passed as a legislation.

Sharing issues and starting a dialogue on the internet with millions of people can help bring about radical changes in our society and help push social movements in the forefront of relevant authorities and mainstream media. It can help gather rallies and hold protests in a small amount of time and bring about real change.

Moreover, social media platforms are also being widely used to hold people accountable for their offensive actions and speeches. This was held true when famous actor Kevin Hart had to step down as a host at the Oscars after a public outcry regarding his offensive and homophobic tweets. This also holds true in the case of famous writer-director James Gunn who was fired from Walt Disney Productions due to his offensive tweets on molestation and paedophilia written 10 years ago. As it is famously said, ‘what is written on the internet stays there forever,’ the rise of social accountability helps hold people responsible for their actions and demand justice.

However, with the increase in the use of online platforms, it is sometimes possible that ‘fiction might find a way to become a fact.’ When a story is shared on Facebook or Twitter, there is no way to ascertain whether the facts shared are true or false. Due to this, social media can also ruin innocent people’s lives. People who are wrongly accused of rape, murder, paedophilia and theft on social media, not only take an emotional and financial toll, they are immediately fired from their jobs, and their careers are ruined. Moreover, people make quick judgments regarding everything we read on the internet without having all the facts and knowledge. Our reactions can have irreversible repercussions. For instance, in Vancouver in 2011, a drunk guy got into a fight and ended up stabbing a teenager through the neck. This incident was quickly taken up on social media and people named the ‘wrong guy’ in their posts. This nearly destroyed his life as he was immediately dropped from his job and sent death threats. Eventually the truth came out, but the social media frenzy had destroyed this individual’s life. Therefore, it is imperative that we do our due diligence before posting or believing anything we see on social media.

In my opinion, the plethora of online platforms available to the citizens of the world can be used in an extremely beneficial manner creating a positive environment. All it takes is one person to come forward with his/her story, which encourages thousands to come forward and share their experiences. It can help people deal with their inner demons, share their ordeals and also help overcome with any kind of mental illness. It is always said that it is easy to share your ordeals with a stranger, I believe that internet connects people to millions of strangers who not only sympathize but can also empathize with the situation. Even though I am aware that the internet can become a place of horror for many people, with regards to online bullying, cyber-crime, body shaming and so on, I do believe it has more positive implications than negative. It is a tool which needs to used wisely and can have long-lasting positive impact on the world.

In this ever-growing world of online platforms and the rise of social revolution where more and more people are sharing their battles and ordeals each day, digital media provides people with an unbiased platform to fight for their rights. They help in spreading socially relevant messages and stories amongst billion of people and bring to our attention different issues faced by people in different countries. Whether it is the oppressed Saudi Arabian women or the unfair treatment of the African-American community, or even the gross human rights violations faced by citizens of war-torn countries, the stories posted online lead to an international outcry for justice, attract attention of rule-makers, non-governmental organisations, journalists and help hold authorities and people accountable for their actions. But at the same time, we must also be wary and cautious of the stories we read on social media and make informed decisions.

Devika Khandelwal, a Masters in International Relations from King’s College London. I am currently working in the non-governmental sector, primarily focusing on fundraising and management. I am staunch supporter to women and children rights, and work at NGOs on weekends to help bring about change in their lives in a small yet positive way.

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New Social Compact

Spanish Flu and COVID-19 – are there lessons for the world of work?

Dorothea Hoehtker

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many look to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918/19, which killed an estimated 50 million people, or 2,5 per cent of the global population. Are there lessons to be learned from the world of work perspective?

The Spanish flu did not start in Spain but was called that because Spanish newspapers were the first to report about it. From its presumed origins in a World War I military camp in the state of Kansas, United States, it washed over the world in three waves. The first, mild one in spring 1918, was followed by a second, more deadly outbreak between September and December 1918 and a third one at the beginning of 1919.

All countries were hit, although unequally. Samoa lost 22 per cent of its population, Spain 12,3 per cent and the US 6,5 per cent. In colonial India, the flu killed 6 per cent of the population, amounting to 18 million, roughly the number of victims of the First World War.

Similar patterns, similar measures

COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu both have struck a highly globalized and interconnected world where viruses easily travel on ships, carriers and trains, or – today – on airplanes. As 1918 was the last year of the First World War, the movement of troops and refugees was a significant factor in spreading the virus. In 2019/20, business and leisure travellers have been the main carriers.

The only measures to control the spread of the disease back in 1918 just as in 2020 were better hygiene, quarantine of the infected, “social distancing” and shutting down much of public life. This implied massive restrictions of civil liberties and paralysis and disruption of the economy.

In 1918/19 as well as today, the poorest and most vulnerable, who often lived in crowded conditions, with low paid work and little or no access to health care, were much more exposed to infection. They also suffered most immediately from drastic lock down measures, and were at a particularly high risk of losing their lives and their livelihoods.

Different impacts

The Spanish Flu happened at the tail end of the First World War, in a context of widespread chaos. The response to the crisis was uncoordinated, mostly local, with a high mobilization of civil society groups.

In industrialized nations, the economic impact was rather short lived. Eventually, the economic boom of the “Roaring Twenties” got many people back to work.

In other parts of the world, such as India and sub-Saharan Africa, the consequences were deeper and longer lasting. A shortfall in labour affected harvest and sowing. Food prices spiked, causing widespread famine and an increased flow of migrants into urban centres. This led to social unrest, strikes and rebellion against colonial powers.

What we can learn

Although the world is very different today, we can learn from the events in 1918/19 that a pandemic increases poverty and inequalities; this carries a social and human cost, which can have long term destabilizing effects.

Today, states have more possibilities to react, including through fiscal and labour market policies and tools, and the opportunity for international cooperation through the United Nations and their international partners.

Policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis need to address inequalities and ensure that poor, rural and marginalized communities are not forgotten. ILO’s labour standards such as Recommendation No. 205, on employment and decent work for peace and resilience, provide the necessary framework.

The global economic and labour market problems arising out of the COVID-19 crisis suggest looking also at the economic crisis of the 1930s and reconstruction policies after World War II.

As a response to massive unemployment and destruction, the ILO promoted comprehensive social protection, including health care, and a variety of employment promotion policies based on the conviction that poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere.

These past responses can be an inspiration for recovery policies which have to be fair and – compared to the past – much more sustainable.

ILO

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New Social Compact

COVID-19 crisis: Older persons are the pillars of our society – we cannot leave them behind

Kaveh Zahedi

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Authors: Kaveh Zahedi and Eduardo Klien*

COVID-19 is turning our world upside down, especially for those at the end of the age spectrum. The virus and its rapid spread are challenging science, economy and society—as well as how we care for older persons.  

We know that the risk of dying from COVID-19 increases significantly with age. Evidence from Asia and the Pacific shows that case fatality rates rise markedly by decade for persons between the ages of 50 to 80.  Due to public health measures, many older persons will die alone, without family and friends. COVID-19 has stripped them of their fundamental human rights – including the right to live and die with dignity. 

In Asia and the Pacific, there are 630 million older persons aged 60 years or over. However, it is not only age that poses a higher risk. Older persons tend to be more affected by chronic and non-communicable diseases, making them more vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19. Those with disabilities are at a particularly high risk since they are often poor, in vulnerable employment without adequate social protection and dependent on others. 

Personal distancing has also had a heavy impact on older persons. Those living alone, particularly older women, may become lonelier and more vulnerable to abuse. Persons with disabilities will be unable to receive assistance. Gatherings of older persons’ associations – an effective tool for their empowerment – are no longer possible. Those confined in care homes remain without the safeguards afforded by regular contact with the outside world. These factors can undermine an older person’s mental and physical health and exacerbate social exclusion. 

Weak social protection and limited access to affordable health care in the region make it less likely for older persons to seek care when showing symptoms of COVID-19.  Informal workers without social protection –which includes most working older persons- cannot afford to self-isolate as it threatens their sources of income. ESCAP and HelpAge International have promoted social protection through universal schemes, including social pensions, as well as access to Universal Health Care. 

Early detection and testing of COVID-19 has led to effective and timely policy interventions. We must ensure immediately that all older persons with symptoms get tested and treated. For those who cannot afford testing, we must provide adequate health care and social protection.   

Although many cases require us to avoid personal contact with older persons, we must reach out to our parents, grandparents, older neighbors and friends to ensure that their basic needs are met. We must engage with them socially, show our respect and assure them how much they matter to all of us, especially in times of crisis. In our interactions with older persons we must be more risk-averse, but not discriminatory.

The post-COVID-19 world will not be the same as before. We know that times ahead will be difficult, unemployment will be high and poverty widespread. While governments in many countries, including in Asia and the Pacific, have announced cash transfers and support to small and medium enterprises (SME) to mitigate the impacts of the crisis, it is imperative that they reach everyone.
 
We must also reduce the digital divide. Access to information and communications technology (ICT) can play a crucial mitigating role during crises, and it must be made available to older persons. ICT can help them manage aspects of their chronic diseases independently, which saves costs and reduces exposure to diseases from visiting hospitals and clinics. Using ICT to diagnose diseases can also help with early detection of disease and in turn early treatment and warning of developing disease hotspots. ESCAP is implementing a project exploring the feasibility of using ICT to support older persons in coping with chronic diseases. HelpAge is also integrating ICT in home and community care projects in the region. 

Timely, reliable and age-disaggregated data are crucial to supporting targeted interventions among older persons. As they face unique challenges, tailored data can help devise more effective responses and longer-term solutions. 

Older persons are crucial pillars of our societies, and their voice must be heard. They are the pioneers who have made the region prosper. It is our responsibility to reduce their vulnerabilities and ensure that older persons live without discrimination.

COVID-19 is challenging our commitment and capacity to leave no one behind. ESCAP and HelpAge work together and stand ready to support member States in responding to challenges, while aiming at policies for ageing societies based on the fundamentals of human rights: equality and dignity for all.

*Eduardo Klien. Regional Director for Asia – HelpAge International

UN ESCAP

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New Social Compact

Covid-19 heightens the risk of child labor, but there is a path to child-labor free cocoa

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Did you know that some of your favorite foods may be produced with child labor? Take chocolate, for instance: 60 percent of its main ingredient, cocoa, is grown in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, where child labor remains widespread.

Due to the impacts of Covid-19, child labor in and beyond these countries could increase. When children are out of school, they are more likely to be engaged in harmful work. Also, virus-induced restrictions could lead to disruptions in the cocoa supply chain, which would cause economic distress among rural cocoa farmers. A recent report by the International Cocoa Initiative compared more than 50 studies looking at how changes in income impact child labor. It found that when household incomes or earning opportunities unexpectedly drop, child labor tends to increase. An example from the Ivory Coast shows that a 10 percent fall in income, due to a drop in cocoa price, led to an increase in child labor by more than five percent. Furthermore, cocoa farmers – like everyone else – face risk of infection, which would affect their ability to work. Children of sick parents or children with only one living parent could therefore be relied upon for all the farm work for their family’s survival.

Remarkable strides have been made in the last 20 years to decrease the number of children involved in child labor worldwide—and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 8.7, which aspires to eradicate all forms of child labor by 2025, has created a new momentum for this pressing challenge.

And yet, the International Labour Organization estimates that a staggering 152 million children worldwide are still involved in child labor today. Most of them, roughly 71 percent, are working in agriculture—work that can be dangerous and exhausting with long hours in the hot sun. The problem is particularly acute in Africa, where nearly half of the child laborers (72.1 million) are found, the majority in agriculture.

This can and must change. But while banning child labor is commonly perceived as the magic bullet, it’s not enough. Years of experience working in cocoa, coffee, tea and other agricultural sectors has demonstrated that a punitive approach to child labor does not empower farmers and their communities to solve the real issue. Instead, farmers may attempt to hide child labor from auditors tasked with checking that they comply with labor standards. This makes child labor harder to detect, and therefore even harder to tackle. At the same time, it is impossible for auditors to monitor all farms every day throughout the year, which is why audits can fail to identify child labor.

So how should child labor be addressed? First, it is critical that all actions are tailored to specific contexts, which may range from small, remote family farms living below poverty lines to big plantations using migrant laborers who may bring their children to help with the harvest and earn a bit extra.

Child labor is a complex issue with different social, economic and political causes. These causes can include lack of access to education, weak enforcement of labor laws, lack of women’s empowerment, poverty and insufficient social protection for the poor. On top of that, a severe pandemic has been added to the list.

It is estimated that a typical cocoa farmer in Ivory Coast, for instance, earns a meagre USD 1,908 a year from cocoa and USD 2,900 from all income combined. This is well below a living income—defined at USD 5,448—needed to afford a decent standard of living. Low incomes can result in farmers keeping their children out of school to work on the farm, as hiring additional labor during harvests can be too expensive.  

It is important to note that not all tasks done by children on farms are considered child labor. To the contrary, work can be positive for a child. Depending on their age, children can perform paid regular or light work or work on their family farm, if this is not dangerous and doesn’t interfere with school. This can be an important part of learning the family business and help ensure future generations of cocoa farmers.

Instead of companies and certification organizations immediately severing the relationship with a farmer when a case of child labor has been found and thus increasing the likelihood that the child will continue to be in child labor and drop out of school, awareness-raising and support can increase the likelihood that the child returns to school and supports his/her family with age-appropriate work in the afternoons and weekends. Imposing sanctions without addressing the root cause can be destructive for farming families and communities. It does nothing to lift farmers out of poverty or to solve child labor.

That is why the Rainforest Alliance, an organization that works to improve farmer livelihoods while protecting the environment, is one of several shifting to a new approach to tackle the global challenge of child labor. The “assess and address” approach focuses on tackling the root causes of child labor; furthermore, it is aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The assess and address approach incentivizes farmers to tackle the root cause of child labor rather than try to hide it. Farms will be required to set up an internal committee that is responsible for preventing child labor, as well as forced labor, discrimination, and workplace violence and harassment. The farms will work proactively on preventing child labor, by researching the local causes of child labor and tackling those causes; by raising awareness about what work children are allowed and not allowed to do; and by monitoring, identifying, and remediating cases. Farms will be able to share information on the progress they are making to prevent and respond to child labor with their supply chain partners and seek further support from them in addressing the issue.

Child labor still won’t be tolerated on certified farms, but an identified case found will not lead to immediate decertification. Instead, farms are required to remove the child from child labor and support the family to prevent the child returning to child labor. This support can vary from helping a family to obtain their children’s birth certificates in order to register for school, to requesting better access to schools and improving the quality of schooling or supporting a farmer to improve the household income.

Obviously, one single organization cannot solve a challenge of this complexity and scale alone. Resolving it requires long-term collaboration between different actors.  

Governments need to ensure that child labor laws are in line with international labor conventions and that such laws are enforced through regular inspections. Governments also need to provide access to free and quality education for children and access to decent healthcare for everyone. Supporting vulnerable families through social protections and income support is also essential.

Many major chocolate companies have been at the frontline of tackling child labor, through child labor monitoring and remediation systems. Others have made good progress in mapping their suppliers down to the farm level, which is a critical first step in identifying the risk of child labor and ultimately eliminating it. It’s also essential that companies collaborate with NGOs and governments on programs that tackle some of the root causes of child labor. Last but certainly not least, paying better prices to help cocoa farmers achieve a living income should be part of the solution as well.

Certification organizations and other NGOs that work on creating more sustainable cocoa supply chains must continue to play their part by stimulating policy change and supporting families and communities to prevent and resolve child labor.

Finally, consumers must do their bit by demanding that brands pay farmers a better price for cocoa and support cocoa communities in farming more sustainably.

Child labor—not only in the cocoa industry, but also in coffee, hazelnuts, and other global supply chains— demands our urgent attention. All of us need to do our part to improve the livelihoods of farmers and farming communities around the world in a way that supports children and lets them access the opportunities they deserve.

Addressing the immediate impacts and further spread of Covid-19 in West Africa is crucial but let this be a reminder that we need to look beyond that and help create more resilient systems for long-lasting change.

Author’s note: first published in WEF

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