Blast from the past: World Day of Social Justice- February 20

On November 26, 2007, the UN General Assembly marked February 20th as the annual World Day of Social Justice which is being observed globally since 2009. The theme for the current year is ‘If You Want Peace & Development, Work for Social Justice’. The article expounds on the background of this global observation and how the Indian Constitution contributes to Social Justice to its citizens.


Social justice is a fundamental tenet of peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among the nations. We sustain the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality, the rights of indigenous people and migrants. We further social justice when we eliminate obstacles that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.

For the United Nations (“the UN”) – a major player in the sphere of social justice, the pursuit of ‘social justice for all’ is at the focus of its global mission to promote development and human dignity. The adoption by the International Labour Organization (“the ILO”) of the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization[1] (“the Declaration”) is just one recent example of the UN system’s pledge to social justice. The Declaration focuses on guaranteeing fair outcomes for all through employment, social protection, social dialogue, and fundamental principles and rights at work.

The ILO estimates that currently about 2 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected situations, of whom more than 400 million are aged 15 to 29.[2] Job creation, better quality jobs, and better access to jobs for the bottom 40 per cent have the potential to intensify incomes and contribute to more cohesive and equitable societies and thus are important to prevent violent conflicts and to tackle post-conflict challenges.

Background of World Day of Social Justice

The World Summit for Social Development was organised in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1995 and it birthed the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action. At this summit, 100 plus political leaders pledged to make the conquest of poverty and full employment, as well as stable, safe and just societies as their overriding objectives. They also reached consensus on the need to put people at the core of development plans.

About 10 years later, the UN’s member states reexamined the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action when they came together at a session of the Commission for Social Development in New York in February 2005. They also agreed to commit to promote social development. On November 26, 2007, the UN General Assembly marked February 20 as the annual World Day of Social Justice. The day was first observed in 2009.

The ILO unanimously adopted the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization on June 10, 2008. This is the third important statement of principles and policies adopted by the International Labour Conference since the ILO’s composition of 1919. It was shaped on the basis of Philadelphia Declaration of 1944 and the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998. The 2008 Declaration communicates the contemporary vision of the ILO’s mandate in the era of globalization.

The Declaration came at an important political juncture, reflecting the wide consensus on the need for a stronger social dimension to globalization in achieving improved and fair results for all. It constitutes a direction for the advancement of a fair globalization based on decent work, as well as a practical tool to accelerate progress in the implementation of the Decent Work Agenda at the country level. It also reflects a productive outlook by highlighting the importance of sustainable enterprises in creating more employment and income opportunities for all.

As part of World Social Justice Day, ILO has released a statement on February 20, 2019 that- “Technology has generated jobs, opened up opportunities and alleviated drudgery, yet billions are still barely surviving in the informal economy. Many societies are scarred by deep social and economic divides; populations are torn apart by war and conflict. And in a changing world of work, established relationships, norms and standards are being called into question and fundamental rights at work are still to be fully realized.”. [3]

Social justice and Indian Constitution

Social justice signifies the equal treatment of all citizens without any social distinction based on caste, colour, race, religion, sex and so on. It means, absence of privileges being given to any particular section of the society, and improvement in the conditions of backward classes (SCs, STs, and OBCs) and women. Social justice is the foundation stone and an underlying factor of Indian Constitution. Indian Constitution makers were very cautious about the use and minimality of principles of justice. They wanted to search such form of justice which could fulfill the expectations of the whole nation.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru put an idea before the Constituent Assembly during the formulation of the Constitution that- “First work of this assembly is to make India independent by a new constitution through which starving people will get complete meal and cloths, and each Indian will get best option that he can progress himself.

The Constitution of India has earnestly promised to all its citizens justices-social, economic and political; liberty of thought expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among all fraternity, ensuring the dignity of the individual and unity of the nation. The Constitution has attempted to harmonize the evidently conflicting claims of socio-economic justice and of individual liberty and fundamental rights by putting some apt provisions:

  1. Article 19 inscribes the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country. The seven sub-clauses of Article 19(1) guarantees the citizens seven different kinds of freedom and distinguishes them as their fundamental rights.
  2. Articles 23 and 24 provides for fundamental rights against exploitation. Article 24 specifically prohibits an employer from employing a child below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or in any other hazardous employment.
  3. Article 38 necessitates that the state should make an effort to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice through social, economic and political reforms shall inform all the institutions of nation’s life.
  4. Article 39(a) says that the State shall ensure that the functioning of the legal system promotes justice, on the basis of equal opportunity, and shall particularly provide free legal aid, by relevant legislation or schemes, or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other barriers.
  5. Article 41 talks about every citizen’s right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness & disablement and in other cases of undeserved want. Article 42 emphasises the importance of securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. Article 43 holds in front of the working population the ideal of the living wage and Article 46 lays the importance of the promotion of educational and economic interests of the schedule castes, schedule tribes and other weaker sections.
  6. The social problem exhibited by the existence of a very large number of citizens who are treated as untouchables has received the special attention of the Constitution in Article 15(1) which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. The state is entitled to make careful provisions for women and children, and for advancement of any social and educationally backward classes of citizens, or for the SC/STs.
  7. Article 17 proclaims that untouchability has been abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden and it also provides that the enforcement of untouchability shall be a serious offence punishable in accordance with law.

These are the provisions dealing with the problem of achieving the ideal of socio- economic justice in this country which has been dictated by the Constitution of India.

Examples of legal organisation fighting for social justice

Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ)[4] is a South African students organization dedicated to protecting human rights, preventing discrimination and promoting social justice and the rule of law.  The Society has been formed in partnership between students of the various universities of South Africa, with the aim to transform legal education and access to justice. Similar examples in India are International Justice Mission, Women’s Research and Action Group (WRAG), Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Vidhi Center for Legal Policy, Amnesty International, etc.


As the UN and ILO statistics still shows the high percentage of social injustice across the world including India, it is very important for us every citizen of India, be it lawyers, students, social workers or judges to play our part in curbing social injustice and promoting social development. Constitution guarantees social justice, but it is long way to go to be integrated into every individuals life starting with our nation and then to the world.

You have to take power,” said American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass in his book the son of slaves, “No one gives it.” Let’s join hands to ensure that people who are most often ignored and disregarded have a voice in public social life. By sharing power, we can hold all our institutions—from governments to corporations to nonprofits—and society itself liable for social justice. We as law students or lawyers, on this day of World Social Justice, as per the UN theme for this year- If You Want Peace & Development, Work for Social Justice, lets ponder over how we can be active contributors to this global cause.

[1] ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2013: Case Study: Karoshi: Death from overwork(2008),

[2] Social, justice, equality, rights, development, human dignity, opportunity for all, United Nations, (last visited Feb 20, 2019).

[3]World Day of Social Justice, World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2013: Case Study: Karoshi: Death from overwork(2019),–en/index.htm (last visited Feb 20, 2019).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You May Also Like