EPE Values - Social Justice

Social justice is a value concept which focuses on the relationship among human groups. It is a measure for assessing how power, wealth, and resources in a society are distributed and used. In a just society, power and wealth are used for the benefit of all groups; they are not used by any particular group to control other groups. Thus social justice is a value concept which stands in opposition to the violence on quality of life that is inflicted by unjust and inequitable social structures, in other words, by structural violence. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and subsequent extensions of this document (e.g., the Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination 1965; the Covenant on Social and Political Rights 1966; the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966; the Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination against Women; 1979; and the Rights of the Child, 1989) provide a blueprint for achieving a just society. A society’s progress toward that goal would be measured by the extent to which its members are ensured equitable access to what these human rights allow. When social justice fails to inform the development of social institutions and dictate their social norms, when social conditions and practices condone social injustice, the context is set for conflict that may lead to physical violence between groups and individuals, and through the impact of this violence on Earth’s life-support systems, social injustice indirectly contributes to environmental degradation.


Questions for ethical reflection

  1. What rights do citizens have to the wealth (e.g. financial resources), power (e.g. planning, decisionmaking and enforcement ) and resources (e.g. water, the atmosphere, technology) of their community? their country? the global community?
  2. By what measure should wealth, power and resources be distributed within local communities? a nation state? globally?
  3. Who is responsible for determining the measure by which wealth, power and resources are to be distributed within local communities? a nation state? globally? For ensuring that distribution is based on the accepted measure?
  4. What are the responsibilities of a government in the face of social and economic institutions whose norms and procedures are biased towards one group over another in the distribution of wealth, power and resources?
  5. What rights and responsibilities come into play when the actions of citizens, governments, corporations violate the human rights of citizens and governments in other countries? Do the people who are harmed have the right to claim compensation from those who caused the harm? Are the groups who caused the harm responsible for compensation? Why? Why not?
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