Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Over the last eight weeks, we have looked social justice, social policies, social contract theory and the role of the social worker. What topic(s) struck a nerve with you? Wha | Wridemy

Over the last eight weeks, we have looked social justice, social policies, social contract theory and the role of the social worker. What topic(s) struck a nerve with you? Wha

 Over the last eight weeks, we have looked social justice, social policies, social contract theory and the role of the social worker. What topic(s) struck a nerve with you? What difference will this make in your practice as a social worker? 


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 Module 8:  Ethics and Social Justice

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Social Responsibility, Social Justice, and Ethics

Ethics is the assertion and justification of what is good, right, proper, or just. Social responsibility is an ethical theory in which individuals are responsible for fulfilling their civic duty, and an individual's actions should benefit society as a whole. Thus, there must be a balance between economic growth and the welfare of society and the environment. If this balance is maintained, then social responsibility is achieved (Smith, 2010). Social justice is based on equal opportunities and human rights, beyond the traditional concept of legal justice. It is based on equity and is essential for each person to develop their full potential and for a peaceful society (Unicef, 2021).

Each individual is responsible for acting in a way that benefits society and not just the individual (Smith, 2010). The theory of social responsibility is based on a system of ethics, in which decisions and actions must be ethically validated before proceeding. If the action or decision causes harm to society or the environment, then it would be considered socially irresponsible. Moral values that are inherent in society create a distinction between right and wrong. Thus, most believe that social justice is in the "right," but this "justice" is often absent.

When do social responsibility and ethics apply?

The theory of social responsibility and ethics applies to individual and group capacities. It should be incorporated into daily actions and decisions, particularly those that affect others and the environment. In the group capacity, a code of social responsibility and ethics is applied within that group and during interactions with another group or an individual (Smith, 2010).

The Social Contract as a Theory to Explain Social Justice

Social justice has long been an important goal and driving social work aspirations. The pursuit of social justice is enshrined in ethical codes, standards of practice, and social work literature worldwide. Social work is an organized attempt to work for social justice. The principle of social justice is based on social contract theory. This involves hypothesizing an agreement between the people who found their society (social contract) or formal government (government contract). This approach to political theory reached its greatest popularity when a doctrine of natural law was widely assumed to be true. Individual (natural) rights and the fulfillment of promises were part of this doctrine and played an important role in various social contracts.

Perhaps the best-known contract theorists were Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, although Grotius, Spinoza, de Montesquieu, and Kant sometimes employed this approach (Rummel, 2009). Social contract theorists generally made rather unrealistic statements about humanity before the social contract, especially about the state of nature. The growth of modern anthropology and sociology, and the increasing acceptance of ethical relativism and subjectivism that seriously questioned natural law, discredited the social contract theory.

Recently, there has been a revival of social contract theory, as can be seen in the divergent work of Rawls'  A Theory of Justice (1971) and Ardrey's  The Social Contract (1970), especially in the understanding of the theory as an effective conceptual tool for critiquing society and government. It is a mechanism for framing questions such as "Do individuals have rights over government?", "What would a society be like without the state?", "Are society and government voluntary?", "Can individuals withdraw from society or government?", "Under what conditions?", "When does society or government break the social contract?" (Rummel, 2009).

The social contract theory is used for several reasons:

1. It is a conceptual power to frame pointed questions about society.

2. It allows highlighting the critical assumptions that underlie and the principles that formulate social justice.

3. It follows from the definition of society as an implicit global social contract.

4. It provides a complementary framework within which the ideas of free choice and social change are developed.

What is Social Justice?

Social justice is about fairness. To be socially fair, each individual must be treated equally and fairly by society. Unfortunately, around the world, this utopian ideal is far from reality. Social injustices can occur on a small and global scale, in schools, and by entire and diverse groups. Social injustice is everywhere, whether it is segregation of an entire cultural group or bullying in school hallways because of sexual orientation (Betts, 2021).

Creating human rights for all is not as easy as one might think. Rather, it is a long and complicated process with new social justice issues surfacing daily. When it comes to social justice, to achieve change, customs, traditions, and values of different cultures have to be explored. Therefore, most countries seek to implement social measures and policies that promote their citizens' welfare while linking them to equity and ethics.

Changing the Face of Social Justice

In the modern era, the face of social justice has changed. While demonstrations and marches are still prevalent, the Internet is also being used to bring social justice issues to light. This can be seen through movements such as #blacklivesmatter and the #metoo movement against sexual harassment. These campaigns work to expand issues into larger movements that bring activists together. Similarly, "social justice warriors" have emerged, which, by its most basic definition, is someone who fights against social injustices worldwide. However, the term itself has recently taken on a negative connotation because of the types of people who call themselves social justice warriors. These are typically bloggers or online activists who enter into overzealous debates that appeal to emotions over logic. A social justice warrior is a self-righteous individual seeking attention online rather than promoting the actual cause (Betts, 2021).

Social Justice Policies

Although several global organizations seek to provide equal rights to all, discrimination and social inequality are still present to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the policies implemented in the various countries (Condrey, 2019).

For example, racial discrimination continues to be a hot topic. There are social policies dressed-up in laws around the world to eradicate it, but the incidents that have occurred continue to illustrate that racial discrimination has not been eradicated. A final example of racial discrimination was slavery, which was abolished in the United States in 1865. African Americans and people of color were forced into servitude in homes and farms and were treated deplorably. One would think that slavery was not a problem in today's culture. However, it remains a social injustice problem found throughout the world. As of 2017, according to  Free the Slaves, 40 million people worldwide were still trapped in some form of slavery, including marital slavery and forced labor.

Social workers and human rights activists are working tirelessly to combat children and their welfare issues. Despite their efforts, several children's issues are still detrimental to their health and mental well-being. There are laws worldwide to ensure a safe working environment for children. These laws were written out of historically harsh and dangerous working conditions for children. While many would like to believe that child labor is a thing of the past, it persists in some areas worldwide.

Many civil rights movements were founded on the unequal treatment and segregation of a cultural or racial group. A famous historical example was the Jim Crow laws segregation of black Americans in the United States. Black Americans had to use specific schools, homes, and medical services, among other institutions and facilities, that were separate from and of lower quality than white Americans. These social policies of segregation have been handled through the abolition of these laws. However, other forms of discrimination against this population sector are still observed. Another famous example of segregation was apartheid in South Africa.

Thousands of children around the world are being neglected. They are also physically, sexually, and emotionally abused. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that up to a quarter of adults have been abused as children. This abuse has social and economic impacts that include mental health problems. Governments worldwide have strengthened their laws to implement harsher punishments for those who abuse or mistreat children.

Globally, steps are being taken to close the educational gap between male and female students. However, there are still several areas worldwide where girls can never set foot in a classroom. UNESCO reports that more than nine million girls never go to school, compared to only six million boys in parts of Africa.

Many laws have been passed over the years to help empower students with special needs, such as those with autism or ADHD. However, this was not always the case. Before laws like No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), many children were simply neglected in their education or shuffled off to special schools and nursing homes if they had learning disabilities. In addition, many countries worldwide lack accommodations or special education services for exceptional children. While the world is making progressive strides toward equality for exceptional students, many point out how labeling and stereotyping a child based on their disability can have lasting negative effects.

Poverty and economic injustice are pressing issues for human rights and social justice. Not only do men, women, and children in the United States and abroad lack access to housing and food, but many also lack access to the basic human need of clean water.

When you think of poverty, you might think of having little food or perhaps living in a homeless shelter. However, the sad truth is that many people do not have access to food, clean water, education, medical care, or even sanitation. According to  The World Counts, more than 485,000 children die yearly of lack of food, shelter, or clean water. More than two million children in the United States, especially Native Americans, lack clean water.

Poverty and illness go hand in hand. Access to quality health care is more difficult when your income is lower, but access to quality food also decreases. This means that heart disease and diabetes are more likely among impoverished people. While there are programs in the United States for people in poverty, these programs are far from perfect. This means that many poor people go without basic care. Globally, among the poorest communities, finding access to medical care or doctors is almost nonexistent—the World Bank and WHO say that nearly half the world lacks access to essential health services.

Social Worker Commitment to Social Justice

Working toward social justice is a central ethical requirement of all social workers. The Code of Social Work Ethics preamble states: "Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice" (Bosco-Ruggiero, 2020). Working toward greater social justice is one of the six core values of social work as described in the Code of Ethics. In the ethical principles section of the Code, social justice is defined.

 As one of the six core values of social work, the revised 2021 Code defines social justice this way: 

Value:  Social Justice

Ethical Principle:  Social workers challenge social injustice

Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources, equal opportunity, and meaningful participation in decision-making for all people. (NASW, 2021)

 Social work is not the same as social justice, and rather it is something that social workers strive to achieve along with their clients and colleagues. Social work recognizes the many social injustices that persist in society and requires professional social workers to be aware of these injustices and work towards change.

Fighting for Social Justice through Political Practice

As noted in the NASW Code of Ethics, social workers are expected to work with and on behalf of their clients. Schools of social work prepare the social worker to work toward social justice through social policy practice and advocacy. Policy practice empowers clients to advocate for change for themselves and their communities. Policy advocacy means advocating for change on behalf of vulnerable groups.

Hoefer (2019) describes the "unified model of political practice" as a clinical approach that combines generalist practice with political practice. In this unified model, the therapist asks clients to become agents of social change. They are encouraged to advocate first or themselves to address the challenges or injustices they face in their lives and then try to make broader changes that will affect the entire community.

Here is an example of how the unified policy practice model might work. A client comes to see a social worker who works in a therapeutic or governmental setting and complains that his landlord is not responding to requests for repairs that need to be made to his apartment. The social worker works with the client on clinical issues such as depression or anxiety while empowering her to advocate for herself and her family. Instead of calling a government agency to file a complaint about the landlord on behalf of the client, a social worker will encourage clients to make the call themselves (Condrey, 2019).

The social worker then encourages her client and perhaps works with her to advocate for a new law in her town or city that requires landlords to respond to repair requests within a set period of time. By empowering clients to become their own advocates, social workers help them create positive change in their lives and the community. Social workers build the client's sense of agency to change their circumstances, which can also help alleviate depression and anxiety.

Policy advocacy is slightly different. It involves working for social justice through policy change on behalf of vulnerable populations. A social worker may join a coalition or work with community members or maybe more of an individual activist. All social workers are expected to work toward greater social justice as policy advocates, regardless of what setting or capacity they work in (Jimenez, 2014). Social workers may do their advocacy work by lobbying elected officials, working within their own agencies to make changes or building coalitions around particular issues in the community. Social workers empower communities to advocate for change and also do some of the work themselves. Social workers learn how to become policy advocates as students. They learn that they can engage in a wide variety of advocacy activities, including organizing meetings, educating the public, writing letters to the editor, creating petitions, or engaging key stakeholders (Young, 2011).

Recognize Social Injustice

Social workers must fight for greater social justice in several key areas. They must recognize when certain communities are being marginalized or disenfranchised and fight for greater power and influence for these communities. They must always fight racism and oppression, gender inequality and discrimination, wherever they see it. These are vital social justice issues. Fighting for social justice also means advocating for a fairer economy. Economic injustice can come from low wages, job discrimination, lack of job training opportunities, or high unemployment in certain communities. Social workers can fight for greater economic and social justice by advocating for policies that reduce poverty or increase community employment and training opportunities. Unfortunately, social injustice is prevalent throughout society and occurs not only in urban areas but also in rural and suburban areas. Social injustice also occurs in organizations and social institutions and systems such as the educational system, the criminal justice system, or health care. Social workers are expected to be able to identify many different types of social injustice.

Social workers must have the tools they need to understand power dynamics, which stakeholders to engage, and how to advocate for policies or programs that can reduce social injustice. The struggle for social justice must be central to the work of all social workers in all settings, including in counseling agencies and offices, schools of social work, human service agencies, public schools, and community and nonprofit organizations (Bosco-Ruggiero, 2020).


· Farmer, P.  (2005).  Pathologies of power. Health, human rights, and the new war on the poor. University of California Press. 

· NASW. (2021).  Code of ethics. to an external site. .

· Pérez-Garzón, Carlos Andrés (January, 2018). Unveiling the meaning of social justice in Colombia.  Mexican Law Review 10(2) 27-66.

· Thompson, N. (2002, September 1).  Social movements, social justice and social workThe British Journal of Social Work (32)6, 1,  711–722. 

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