Partnering Environmental Causes and Social Justice

Social justice is a broad idea that embraces a number of concepts including equality, solidarity, morality, opportunity, fairness, justice and so many others. What it all seems to boil down to, of course, is recognizing that all people are equal and society must offer equal opportunities and rights without regard to income, ethnicity, race of any other quality or feature. Everyone operates on an equal basis.

It’s obvious how you can try to create a level playing field through laws and court systems.  What happens outside the court rooms is the real determinant of social justice though. For example, in Great Britain, experts say that air pollution shortens approximately 200,000 lives while contributing to 50,000 deaths annually. The worst air pollution is in London. Is there social justice when people are forced to breathe air that can shorten their lifespan?

The environmental issues involve much more than simply clean air and water. They are an integral component of social justice. For example, public transportation that is fuel efficient and does not pollute the air benefits everyone from poor to rich. If social justice is equality then environmental causes can help achieve that equality. You cannot separate social justice from the lives people are forced to live outside of the legal system. A single bus can eliminate as many as 50 cars from the road, thus lowering pollution levels and making all the air more breathable for people without regard to income.

Income level and social justice are closely tied together too. Low income people cannot afford fresh fruits and vegetables and tend to buy unhealthy processed canned food filled with sodium. Is it social justice for people to be denied access to healthy food because of income limitations? The same is true of health care. Though a national health system provides services without regard to income, the reality is that those who can’t pay for quick service are faced with months of waiting for things like surgery while the wealthy can move to the front of the line as private payers.

The point is that social justice is more than law. It is also about access to essential services, helping people out of poverty, cleaning the air and the water, making healthy foods as (or more) affordable as unhealthy ones, providing quality education without regard to where the school is located. You cannot look at social justice in a vacuum which is what government often seems to do. That, in my opinion, gets to the very foundation of the recent UK riots – why so many unexpected people joined in and why the government was taken by surprise.



Women’s Equality Takes a Blow With Issue of New Report

It is puzzling that after so much effort and publicity women are still struggling in the UK to reach the best paying jobs. A recent report by Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that 5,400 women are “missing” from the top management jobs.

It is especially puzzling when you read that more and more British women are getting university degrees and actually graduate with higher grades than men. They are even getting entry level jobs with good companies. The problem is women make it to a certain level within the organisation and then that’s it. They either never get promoted into higher management or executive positions, or they leave the workforce completely.

You may be thinking they leave the workforce to have children, but that is an assumption. Many women leave because they see their current positions as being dead-end. Rather than twist in the wind trying to move up in an organisation that clearly is dominated by men in the upper echelons, they leave to pursue other opportunities like self-employment.

Even more puzzling about this situation is the fact that women do succeed in politics in Europe. In the UK, there was the successful Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel is looked up to as the solid stable force in an unstable Eurozone, and she is well respected. Christine Lagarde, the first French female finance minister, is now Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. However, despite the success of a few women, the key word is “few”.

According to the European Institute, UK women make up as little as 7 percent of the FTSE 250 company executive board positions. That number is lower than statistics for China, Brazil or Russia. In the European Union, women hold 10 percent of the organizational board seats.

There is a call for mandatory quotas, but quotas don’t work. They only work in terms of forcing an organisation to hire women whether or not the management wants to. Quotas do not change the way people think. This is supported by the fact that studies have shown European business leadership continues to believe there is no problem. You can point out the statistics, read research results, and state the facts. Yet if someone wants to believe that there is no problem, then they are not going to act.  In fact, the corporate leadership generally seems to believe that there are not enough qualified women to fill positions. Imposing a quota will do nothing to change their mind.

What can be done? The pressure to hire women must come from within the organisation. The shareholders and even the staff must hold the organisation accountable. A company can get a lot of bad publicity about hiring practices that could shame them into rethinking their policies and procedures. Changing people’s attitudes and perceptions is never easy, but force will never work.

It never does…


Recession Equalizing Child Poverty

Mention the topic of poverty it’s not countries like the UK and the USA that first come to mind. It’s the sad hungry children dealing with the famine in Somalia or the children living in fear in huts in the Republic of Congo as hoarding groups terrorize villages. I think about the over 4.9 million poor children working for a pittance in Bangladesh or Cape Verde where as much as 14 percent of the population is said to be ultra poor…not poor…ultra poor…and many are children.

Where does the UK and the USA fit into such a grim picture? Before answering that question, first get rid of any stereotypes you may hold on to about childhood poverty. The poor children are white, black and Asian and all ethnicities. Some of the poor families even have an income, but it’s not nearly enough to pay living expenses.

To answer the question about the UK and the USA, you only need to look at the statistics. In the UK, one out of three children lives in poverty. The government and foundations were making tremendous strides in reducing the number of poor children but mostly in workless families. Then the recession hit and the working families faced unemployment and rising prices and they are joining the ranks of the workless. Unfortunately, austerity cuts do not leave enough public money to address the growing child poverty rates.

Currently, the UK Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that between 2012-13 and 2013-14, absolute numbers of children sliding into poverty will be 100,000. If austerity measures are fully implemented and maintained, child poverty will grow by 200,000 in 2012-13 and by 300,000 in 2013-14. What is largely to blame? The answer is: The recession.

In the USA, a national study was released this week by the Annie E. Case Foundation. It reports that child poverty increased by 20 percent in the years between 2000 to 2009 and there are 14.7 million children living in poverty. One out of every five children is poor in the USA. An increase in poverty in 38 states over the last decade offset gains made in reducing child poverty levels before the year 2000.  What is largely to blame? The answer is: The recession.

Some people claim that you can’t compare poverty in Somalia to poverty in the UK or the USA. They say that only owning the clothes on your back cannot be compared to living in a country with so many social services. Yet in the richer countries, children continue to slide into poverty and hunger increases meaning social services are not reaching everyone as they should.

Here’s a fact: Hunger in the UK child’s stomach hurts as much as hunger in the stomach of the Somalian child. Here’s another fact: Lack of good nutrition for UK and US children will cause the same health conditions and disease as lack of nutrition for Somalian children.  The recession is equalizing poverty between the rich countries and the poorest of the poor countries.

No child should go to bed hungry at night. So…I look at the starving Somalian children and I see every child no matter where that child lives.

Turning Off Social Media During Civil Unrest

When the 2009 Iranian uprisings occurred, it was technology, specifically social media, that erased the country’s borders and enabled protestors to communicate their criticisms and display their acts on the world stage. This was truly the first time young people used social media as a tool for social change. Social media took the power out of the government’s hands and put it in the hands of the young who were protesting a repressive government.

Zooming ahead to Egypt in 2011, it was an expanded and more sophisticated social media and high tech cell phones that once again eliminated the ability of government to maintain communication borders. Pictures, instant messages, tweets, voicemails, cell phone pictures, Facebook updates, webcam video and more flowed out of the country to cell phones and computers around the world. Social media was a catalyst for massive government and social change.

Everyone applauded the use of social media for civil disobedience. In fact, the technology giant Google made sure the Egyptians could send messages even if the internet was blocked by setting up a tweet-by-voice service.

Now it’s August 2011 and civil disobedience has hit the United Kingdom. It was not expected, and it seemed to be composed of a bunch of young rebels with time on their hands who were causing trouble. Once again, social media was used, but this time the government said it was used to organize and plot violence with no purpose except to loot and terrorize people and businesses.  As a result, the British Prime Minister has suggested that the government is exploring the possibility of shutting down social media and cell phone services if they were used for spawning and promoting disorder.

These are three cases in which social media led to violence. In two cases, social media was praised as a communication tool. In one case it is damned as a tool for civil disobedience. Yet there are many who believe the London riots were not simply bored youth looking for trouble. They believe the riots are sending a youthful message about social injustice due to unemployment, class differences and so on. The violence was wrong, but you could find many who would say the same thing about the Iranian and the Egyptian violence.

The proposal to shut down social media when the government deems the messages to be promoting violence is not a good solution to its concerns.  Such an act would violate civil liberties for everyone. That is not moving forward. That is moving backwards. The governments must adjust to the use of social media because England cannot control its communication borders any more than Iran or Egypt. In fact, it is disappointing that shutting down social media would even be suggested in a country that promotes freedom of speech.



London Riots Have Been in the Making for Years

Poverty…social deprivation…inequality…social tensions…alienation…a broken Britain…

Who would have thought that the European bastion of self sufficiency and stiff upper lips would watch sections of London burn in this day and age? Set afire by angry people roaming the streets the pundits are trying to find the right words to explain what happened. The world acts shocked that mobs of youth and young adults displaying antisocial behavior have taken to the streets in this venerable city.

They shouldn’t be shocked. The riots in London have been in the making for many years and the rampage is merely a pot bubbling over. In 2007 the New York Times wrote about pockets of social deprivation and alienation, absence of respect for authority, drug use, vandalism, criminality and broken families as being common across Britain. The country was ranked last by UNICEF among 21 industrialized countries for children’s well being. The measurement factors included health, poverty and relationships with family.

Alienated and poverty stricken youths are not Britain’s only troubled group of citizens. The poorest of the citizenry can be sorted by ethnic groups – Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and Black Africans have the highest income poverty rates.

Now the stories about the London riots discuss how the city’s two disparate worlds have been revealed. There are the poverty stricken under-educated youth and young adults who cannot find jobs because there are none. Then there is the other British population that enjoys the luxury of employment, home ownership, and holidays in countries around the world. The wide division creates two worlds so vastly different they might as well be on opposite sides of the planet.

Poverty is ruinous. It erodes the spirit like a cancer. The cancer only got worse when the austerity measures were put into place and the social services cut as a result. The cuts are hurting people who live in a depressed economy all the time and not just during the current recession. It is why the British Prime Minister David Cameron used the term “broken Britain.” Something that is broken is not working.

People need to realize though that these riots are not surprising. There has been plenty of warning for years now. It was simply easier to ignore the chasm separating the two worlds of have and have-nots…maybe write an article here and there…mention the poor and alienated every now and then…and then plan the next holiday to France.


EU Must Pull Together or Pull Apart

The fate of the European Union is far from determined as the recession and tepid recovery have placed financial stress on the group of nations. The UK Chancellor George Osborne recently gave a speech in which he unequivocally states that the future of the euro is questionable given the financial instability of Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Greece. The collapse of the European Union and the demise of the euro would be disastrous for the UK.

The concerns are shared by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They are planning on meeting in Paris next week to discuss the economic stability and governing of the European Union.

All of the EU’s countries have had to deal with massive debt issues leading to deep cuts in social services and government layoffs. It is austerity measures that have brought youthful protestors out by the thousands because the cuts have had a direct impact on their ability to find jobs. The photos of Greece’s demonstrations against the austerity measures are striking in that the rock throwing protestors are clearly mostly young adults.

A breakup of the European Union would have a disastrous impact on much more than Great Britain. The millions of young educated adults unable to find work now would be faced with an unconscionable situation in which currencies would be devalued, banks collapsed and a new recession likely. That is precisely why Sarkozy and Merkel are meeting to discuss strengthening the financial stability of the EU. Though they secretly may prefer to get out of the EU at this point.

It is troublesome that the young and the poor often seem to be the first victims of economic policies. In Somalia, it is the women and their children suffering with starvation from failed government economic management. In Britain, the London rioters are described as “young, poor and disillusioned” and the disillusionment is the result of poorly constructed economic policies. In Greece, the unemployment rate for those under 30 is approximately 40 percent and austerity measures are pushing them out of the country to look for work. These same situations play out from country to country.

Though it is possible Greece may have to exit the EU, it is hoped that the exit will be orderly. If Greece leaves, will other countries follow? Possibly…and that is what scares the young and the poor.

The Holocaust and the UK Youth Parliament

When I get discouraged by the economy and the political doublespeak that makes us all wonder if there is any hope at all for the future, a holocaust survivor speaks. The survivors of man’s inhumanity to man cannot help but make you reflective and wonder two things. Would I have endured through the tragedies? Would I be speaking today about democracy and freedom if I was a survivor?

A free society is what the world wants, but what exactly does that mean? Is it freedom from excessive taxes that erode income and thus a standard of living? Is it freedom to say whatever we want to say without regard for what others believe, want to hear, or the content? Is it freedom of religion even when it invades cultural mores?

Look to the holocaust survivors. They have a message for the world that seems to fade as time goes by and yet remains important because we will always be human. At the UK Youth Parliament in late July 2011, Iby Knell, a holocaust survivor, spoke about a free society where you can express your opinion without fear and without arrest and without persecution. When I look at the picture of her at the conference, I wonder what she went through and how she survived. What kind of determination and strong character does it take to go through life after such an ordeal and speak about it to anyone who will listen? How do you ever learn to smile again?

Then I find my eyes are looking at the hundreds of young conference members sitting behind her, and I realize that it is in their power to prevent a holocaust in the future. The fact they are even at the conference tells you that they care deeply about the world they live in and are willing to take a stand, get involved and learn how to influence society, politics, the environment, health, education and so much more.

Ms. Knell represents a past she doesn’t want repeated or anyone else to endure. Those she spoke to can make sure it never does. Despite the fact the young adults attended the conference, I find myself wondering if they truly understand the power they have to form a world that is very different from the one we live in now. Heaven knows there is much that needs changing.