Global Social Protection Charter – Social Justice and Systemic Change

At the Twelfth Edition of the Asia Europe People’s Forum in Ghent, on 1 October 2018, our Global Charter for Social Protection Rights was adopted. You can find it (ad support it) at:

Below, the opening tekst at the social justice cluster of Francine Mestrum:


“What are the objectives of social justice cluster:

We want to develop a concept that is positive, creating hope, that is politically attractive and we also want to make it very concrete, by showing

  • That social justice is central to the political, environmental and economic changes we desperately need and want – ‘erst das Fressen und dann die Moral’ (Bertold Brecht) – we want to point to the importance of economic security. We also do not want to forget the origins of socialism, in this city of Ghent, in which soup kitchens played an enormous role!


  • One of the major elements of social justice is social protection, this should and can be broadened – this social protection is based on economic and social rights and on solidarity


  • Social protection means social security (insurances, unemployment benefits, sickness benefits and health care, pensions, care for young mothers and children …) but also social assistance (help for poor people so as to prevent and eradicate poverty), labour rights and also – very important – public services


  • We consider social protection to be a common – we may have time to discuss this further, during this meeting, but basically it means that we need a State to guarantee people‘s rights, whereas citizens have to be actively involved in the conceptualization, the implementation and the monitoring of social protection policies


  • Social protection is closely linked to other sectors we are concerned about: climate change in the first place, but also trade and democracy, and in the end, obviously, peace – The Constitution of the ILO, which will celebrate its centenary next year, in 2019, explicitly states: peace is not possible without social justice.


  • In that way, if we consistently and coherently pursue our objectives, social protection can be transformative, that is directly contribute to economic and environmental system change.


  • Examples: housing for climate change ; mobility in cities – public transport …
  • Democracy: discuss and decide on (social) policies – the core of social commons
  • Economy : stop Monsanto/Bayer to produce (and use) pesticides if we want to have preventive health policies
  • Trade: stop making huge profits on patents on pharmaceutical products
  • etc

Let me briefly point to some other problems


  1. The whole discourse on social protection is today in the hands of the right


  1. SDG’s and SPF’s are very important, but they do allow for privatisations, they will not stop land grabbing and corporate greed, on the contrary – read The Economist on how ‘liberalism’ is claiming to be the only progressive force today!


  1. The World Bank has played a very important role these past thirty years in changing the meaning of ‘social protection’ from ‘poverty reduction’ to a totally eroded concept and finally targeted policies for the poor


  1. Neoliberalism is not our only enemy anymore, because in the meantime, populist right-wing governments, in Europe, in Asia and in the Middle East are promoting ‘social protection’ that defends ‘traditional values’, that are non-emancipatory, etc.


  1. What is happening today is this : as the German sociologist Claus Offe said: capitalism does not want welfare states, but at the same time it realizes that it cannot survive without welfare states. So what is happening today is that the World Bank and many governments, are trying to establish and to save these (minimal) parts of welfare states that capitalists need – and they talk of social investments. That is why we see that everywhere, they will cut on pensions and unemployment benefits, you do not invest in old people and everyone has to be on the labour market. Today, social protection is at the service of markets


  1. As for rightwing populism, its strategy is purely electoralist, while in the meantime keeping people away from emancipatory policies; they will defend and promote ‘traditional values’


  1. That is why we have to defend our vision on an emancipatory, universal, comprehensive and transformative social protection.

And let me add one more argument:

We need to have our own agenda. For the reasons mentioned above we need to go beyond the currently existing international initiatives – which we support, they are good – but we, progressive social movements, we should develop our own agenda. We should not limit our fights for things that have already been given to us. Because that is what international organisations do : they decide on what our agendas should be. There we say: NO; We have our own agenda.

That is why in our Manila meeting in February of this year, we discussed public services; and why we had a conference on social commons in Barcelona in June of this year. Our aim is to continue to search for theories and practices promoting social justice while contributing to system change.

That is why we drafted a Global Charter for Social Protection Rights, which goes indeed further, which does not have to be taken in all its details,  but which can be a reference points for the social struggles and campaigns we have to organize.

Because yes, do not forget this: we have to organize, we have to coordinate, we have to work together. And we have to strategize.

Here in this plenary meeting, speakers will tell you how social justice is linked to democracy, and how it is linked to the economy, and how through a reflection on social justice, we can, together, contribute to change.