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Demanding justice beyond rhetoric

Guest content
30 September 2021

The latest Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2021 report argues that it's time to overcome contradictions and hypocrisy in the COVID-19 crisis. Published by Social Watch et al.

Policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis have greatly exacerbated national and global inequalities. Blatant examples are the unfair distribution of care work, relying mainly on women and poorly remunerated if at all, and the global disparity in the distribution of vaccines.

So far more than 60 percent of people in high-income countries have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but less than 2 percent have done so in low-income countries. In view of this dramatic disparity, the "leave no one behind" commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains hollow.

The dominant interests of rich countries, and corporate powers continue to dominate political decision-making. Given the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis and the other unresolved global problems, most notably the climate emergency, it is high time for transformative policies at all levels.

This is the key message of the Spotlight on Sustainable Development Report 2021. The report is launched on the first day of the Global Week to #ACT4SDGS by a global coalition of civil society organizations and trade unions.

According to the report, economic justice based on human rights can be achieved, but the trend towards privatizing, outsourcing and systematic dismantling of public services must be reversed. To combat growing inequality and build a socially just, inclusive post-COVID world, everyone must have equitable access to public services, first and foremost to healthcare and education.

To prevent the COVID-19 pandemic being followed by a global debt and austerity pandemic, governments must be enabled to expand their fiscal policy space and properly tax multinational corporations and wealthy individuals, many of whom pay virtually no income tax at all. Fundamental reforms in the global financial architecture, including a debt workout mechanism beyond piecemeal relief measures for debt servicing, are long overdue.


The scourge of COVID-19 struck an already stark reality of multiple inequalities – in households, across communities, in national context, and among countries. Its waves of devastation have exacerbated pre-existing conditions and disparities as well as creating new ones.

This reality can be seen in the health numbers, the job numbers, in education, in hunger and in so many sectors. Attention to the debt burden unequally borne by countries has come to the fore but is being addressed with piecemeal relief measures for debt servicing not with the restructuring that a debt workout mechanism would bring. Furthermore, the over-reliance on a few pharmaceutical giants, their disproportionate benefits, financial and reputational, and the prevailing just-in-time business model have been ignored. While the exposure of inequalities in fiscal space has spurred measures such as the new allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), these too are inadequate to the task of a just recovery and function within flawed global financial architecture. Ignoring the multiple warnings and manifestations over decades of the ecological and climate crises has scientists from around the world and the United Nations issuing a Code Red for humanity.

Few governments and agencies have been willing to address the structural and institutional inadequacies and correct the biases baked into many governance arrangements. Advocates and observers alike have learned that this accumulation of disappointing outcomes often reflect unfair governance systems, many rooted in the post-colonial global restructuring, as well as in inadequate policy prescriptions.

Post-COVID-19 society and economy need national policies that reduce inequalities manifest in multiple ways, such as through income, gender, disability, religion and race. Policies are needed to revalue care work, reorient global value chains towards domestic priorities and jobs, both in developing and developed countries, while limiting in equitable ways fossil fuel and material consumption to planetary boundaries.

In all regions of the world new visions and policies for a sustainable transformation post COVID-19 are called for, but the actual decision-making continues to be heavily focused on fora like the G7, the G20 and the OECD, which lack a functioning people-centred and human rights accountability framework, and where the global South is often only an invited guest and sometimes excluded entirely. 

Addressing these injustices and insecurities requires political will and policy space. Political will is (or should be) domestically generated by democratic processes, supported by universal standards of human rights and the ‘right sharing of the world’s resources’. The current structure and dynamics of global decision-making do not support this, and their outcomes often fall short failing to extend beyond reactive or short-term responses. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis have reminded the global community of the essentials of reviewing and in many cases rewriting international rules and the urgency of Just Transition strategies to move in this direction.

This Spotlight Report describes the highly uneven socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis and analyses the policy responses to it. It explores beyond the rhetoric, highlighting deepening inequalities, self-serving and hypocritical policies and governance failures at national and international level. Addressing the imbalance in global vaccine production and distribution, the report also examines a few key areas where political and structural changes are necessary to correct the limited and asymmetric recovery.

The CSOs that have contributed to this and previous Spotlight Reports have extensive experience in bringing voices, realities and analyses from countries and communities to local, national, regional and diverse global decision-making processes and fora. The contributions in this report provide a snapshot of the wealth of knowledge and commitment of independent CSOs, trade unions and social movements. They have brought many reports to the attention of the decision-making processes and have learned that equally important as their analysis and findings are participation rights in the shaping of sustainable just outcomes.

Barbara Adams and Jens Martens, Global Policy Forum (GPF)

Roberto Bissio, Social Watch

David Boys, Public Services International (PSI)

Chee Yoke Ling, Third World Network (TWN)

Kate Donald, Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)

Stefano Prato, Society for International Development (SID)

Ziad Abdel Samad, Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)

Gita Sen and María Graciela Cuervo, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)


Table of contents:


1- Diverging recovery – deepening inequalities
By Barbara Adams and Jens Martens, Global Policy Forum

Special Contribution 1.1:
The struggle for the TRIPS waiver
By K.M. Gopakumar, Third World Network

Special Contribution 1.2:
COVAX: Risks and side effects of multi-stakeholder governance
By Harris Gleckman, Associate, Transnational Institute

Special Contribution 1.3:
The WHO pandemic treaty proposal: responding to needs or playing COVID geopolitics?
By Nicoletta Dentico, Society for International Development (SID)

Special Contribution 1.4:
Challenging decades of privatization and de-funding of public services
By Daria Cibrario, Public Services International (PSI)

Special Contribution 1.5:
IMF Special Drawing Rights – a historic financial boost to counter the COVID-19 crisis?
By Bodo Ellmers, Global Policy Forum

Special Contribution 1.6:
Large corporations cash in on COVID-19 recovery
By Matti Kohonen, Financial Transparency Coalition

Special Contribution 1.7:
The UN Food Systems Summit – the wrong way to respond to the global food crisis
By Magdalena Ackermann, SID and Charlotte Dreger, FIAN

Special Contribution 1.8:
What have we learned about gender equality during the pandemic?
By Vanita Nayak Mukherjee and Shree Baphna, DAWN

Special Contribution 1.9:
Recovery in education: The imperative to support and invest in the education workforce
By David Edwards, General Secretary, Education International

2 - Exacerbated crises in many countries
By Roberto Bissio, Social Watch

Special Contribution 2.1:
Citizens Monitoring COVID-19 Response Programmes: The Philippine experience
By Social Watch Philippines

Special Contribution 2.2:
Lebanon’s multiple crises
By Rasha Fattouh, Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)

Special Contribution 2.3:
Lessons from Colombia: To address the causes of social unrest, be serious about progressive tax reforms
By Sergio Chaparro Hernández, Center for Economic and Social Rights

Special Contribution 2.4:
Time for feminist transformative policies: Towards a national care system in Argentina
By Corina Rodríguez Enríquez, DAWN

Special Contribution 2.5:
Vulnerabilities and policy priorities for South Africa’s COVID-19 third wave
By Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ)

3 – Time for transformative policies at all levels
A rights-based economy: In critical times, a roadmap for action
By Kate Donald, Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)

Now is the time to reclaim public services
By Daria Cibrario, Public Services International (PSI)

Steps to prevent a global debt and austerity pandemic
By Isabel Ortiz, Global Social Justice, and Matthew Cummins, Senior Economist

Click here to download full report.

Original source: Spotlight on Sustainable Develpment

Image credit: Social Watch et al