Putting people first, not profits

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Economic Policy Working Group Shared Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

 The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing the failures of the global economic system and deepening its inherent injustices and inequalities. The Common Charter for Collective Struggle, initially drafted by movement members and adopted by ESCR-Net in late 2016, outlines five conditions facing communities around the world, including impoverishment and dispossession amid abundance, deepening inequality, corporate capture of government decision-making, climate change and growing repression.

The Common Charter has, in turn, provided the starting point for the Economic Policy Working Group’s Systemic Critique Project, which recently launched a Timeline of Capitalism and related popular political education tools, linking these conditions to our current global economic system. The timeline reveals that capitalism—as a system elevating privatization and competition, dependent on inequality and exploitation—had a beginning, has shifted over time and can be transformed.

From a human rights perspective, the ultimate measure of any economic system or policy is its impact on people, particularly the most vulnerable, and its role in facilitating respect, protection and fulfilment of economic, social, civil, political, cultural and environmental rights, foremost by governments, based on maximum available resources and international assistance and cooperation.  

As COVID-19 ravages the world economically, the International Labour Organization estimates that 25 million people may lose their jobs by the end of the crisis, with youth, older workers, women and migrants bearing a disproportionate burden of the job crisis, as women are “over-represented in low-paid jobs and affected sectors” and migrants facing vulnerabilities “due to lack of social protection and [access to] rights.”

The Kairos Center notes that this crisis will hurt 140 million poor and low-income US residents disproportionately. These sentiments are echoed by the Law and Society Trust in Sri Lanka, where 60 percent of the population works in the informal economy and “many people are forced to choose between the risk of getting and spreading the virus and losing their job, being unable to pay rent, and struggling to feed their families”.

UNCTAD confirms that the emerging economic crisis will hit the bottom of the economic ladder the hardest, including those working in the certain service sectors.  In South Africa, shack dwellers are facing ongoing forced evictions and demolition of their housing during the pandemic. Anticipating that again “it could be the poor of the world, more than a billion of whom live in shack settlements, who are hit hardest,” Abahlali baseMjondolo emphasizes, “It does not seem possible to prevent this virus from spreading when we still live in the mud like pigs, when in many settlements there is no water, or hundreds of people sharing one tap, and many settlements lack any access to sanitation.” In Zimbabwe, a member noted, “Despite not having any income during the lockdown, the government did not suspend payment of social services or provide a facility to cushion the poor during this lockdown period.”

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Putting people first, not profits


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