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Understanding Welfare: Social Issues, Policy and Practicex
Business and labour groups are better organised and exert greater influence at the international level than ever before. Cooperation and organisation beyond borders has increased, as has international lobbying. Some business and labour organisations operate independently and on the periphery of intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), trying to influence them from the outside. Others are institutionally embedded within the decision- and policy-making structures of IGOs. As the number and importance of IGOs has grown, so too have the number of formal and informal opportunities for engagement in global policy processes. Although business and labour organisations can find common ground between them on certain issues, they often pursue policies that are at odds with each other, especially when it comes to questions of economic and social regulation. This chapter examines all of these issues. The first section provides an overview of how major business and labour actors exercise power, and how they are represented in global social policy (GSP). The second section outlines the competing perspectives business and labour have on social policy. The third section examines some important global issues relevant to labour and business interests, including labour standards, corporate regulation and international taxation. The fourth section examines global governance and the responses of IGOs to business and labour positions.
As global frameworks and agreements on trade, regulations and social policies have become more important and, in some instances, more binding, so business and labour organisations have sought to shift their spheres of influence to the global and world-regional levels in addition to the national level to defend their interests.
In contrast to the study of national welfare regimes, global social policy (GSP) studies have largely invisibilised gender. The same cannot be said for GSP as practice. ‘Gender equality and women’s empowerment’ has become an established (if still contested) global norm, with an institutional architecture dedicated to making gender inequalities visible and promoting policies to address these. Various United Nations (UN) agencies and other intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), together with transnational feminist networks (TFNs), have worked to gender understandings of global poverty and inequality, labour policy, health, social protection and migration.
This chapter outlines ways of thinking about how GSP, as a field of academic study and as political practice, incorporates a gender lens. It begins with an overview of the global institutional architecture developed to make visible the gender dimensions of GSP issues. UN agencies and UN treaty bodies like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) play a critical role, but they do not work in isolation. Of critical importance are their links with feminist epistemic communities and TFNs. The second section looks at gender and labour policy, highlighting the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) standard-setting work. It shows that the ILO’s understanding has evolved, influenced by developments in the wider environment and the actions of TFNs.
Identification of women’s reproductive roles in the biological sense of women as bearers of children and in social reproduction understood as ‘the processes involved in maintaining and reproducing people … on a daily and generational basis’ (Bezanson and Luxton, 2006, p 3) contributes to the gendering of social policy practice.
This chapter provides an overview of the institutions and actors that constitute the governance of global social policy (GSP). This process is referred to as global social governance, and involves a complex web of public and private actors which pursue their agendas over a multiplicity of jurisdictions and countries. The first section introduces key concepts necessary for an understanding of the intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), structures and actors via which the processes of global social governance take place. The following section introduces key IGOs, and demonstrates how they are organised according to different principles and have blurred and overlapping mandates and differential degrees of power. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank are briefly compared to illustrate these differences. The chapter then turns to world-regional social governance, and considers the range of sub-global (world-regional) IGOs and the challenges they both face and present for global social governance. Finally, the chapter looks at the future of global social governance and reflects on contemporary challenges to GSP.
Governance is a tricky concept, with a variety of definitions. It can be distinguished from government in that it concerns various means of regulating or organising some activity or entity that may involve governments but that are not limited to them. Governance is sometimes thought of as referring to the environment in which governments act. Fidler (2005, p 162) provides a concise definition of governance as ‘The process of governing, or of controlling, managing or regulating the affairs of some entity’. Note that this may include formal institutions that involve codified rules and norms as well as tacit or informal rules or norms.
Increased awareness of, and alarm about, climate change gained momentum during the 1980s in tandem with the growth of green politics, political parties and policy agendas that emerged in the 1960s, which, among other things, conceptualised the world as a single ecosystem (Snell and Haq, 2013). While concerns about a changing climate were in part related to broader claims about the inherent value of the natural world, they were also increasingly related to a realisation about detrimental human impacts. As a policy problem, climate change is understood throughout the academic and policy community as being both global in scope and unprecedented in scale (UN, 2020). It is described by the United Nations (UN) as ‘the defining issue of our time’ (UN, 2020), with multiple risks to human life, including: ‘shifting weather patterns that threaten food production [and] rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding’ (UN, 2020). The most recent evidence on climate change from the fifth report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (IPCC, 2018a, pp 6–8) highlights current and future risks to human life, occurring globally, with ‘severe, pervasive, and irreversible’ impacts that will occur without ‘substantial and sustained’ policy action.
Given these issues, climate change has been characterised as a ‘wicked’ policy problem (Cahill, 2001) that is ‘truly complex and diabolical’ (Steffen, 2011, cited in Gough, 2011) and ‘big, global, long term, persistent and uncertain’ (Stern, 2007, p 25). While most nations agree in principle that there is a need for global collective action (cf UNFCCC, 2020a), beyond this, there is far less agreement of what sort of action is needed, with much controversy over the action each nation should be required to take.
Over the past three decades there has been an expansion of global education policy-making. This is the outcome of interactions among an array of international, multilateral, corporate agencies and civil society actors, who have entered into the education sector in various capacities: as policy shapers, providers, financiers, owners of infrastructures and regulators.
Given that education is a profoundly national and sub-national activity, it might come as a surprise that education systems around the world are increasingly governed through global policies. This involves not only obvious forms of global activity, but also, as Sassen argues, significant units within sub/national state architectures that have recalibrated their spatial horizons towards the global (2006), creating new interdependencies between the institutions of global governance and national states (see Chapter 1, this volume). Understanding why and how this is happening is important, not least because education is a key pillar of the social contract between states and civil society as well as a key institution of welfare systems. Such developments bring new challenges for governing, especially for intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), particularly when they lack strong regulatory capacities.
In this chapter we draw on Mittelman’s (2000) conceptualisation of globalisation as a syndrome of related, although contradictory, processes and activities, that have set in train a historic transformation in the economy, in politics and in cultural milieus (Mittelman, 2000, p 7). A key feature of the current manifestation of globalisation is its ideational base – that of neoliberalism – mobilised in the 1980s by critics of bureaucratic state power (Peck, 2013), and as an alternative to Keynesianism (Harvey, 2007) (see Chapter 1, this volume).
Health is of particular relevance to global social policy (GSP) for three reasons.
First, it is a universal human right, and gross social inequalities in health undermine this right. Health inequalities have been addressed to reduce unequal health outcomes across countries and regions as well as to ensure equity in access to health services and medicines. Traditionally, this has been sought through development assistance for health, focused especially on international disease- or action-specific programmes such as those on HIV/AIDS, vaccinations or maternal and child health. Second, global health concerns have been identified by their potential to transcend national borders, in particular the risks of epidemics and contagious diseases, which can spread to/from the Global South to/from the Global North.
Coordinating action and ensuring resources has therefore required action at a global level to mitigate or contain these public health risks. The health security threats of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), global pandemic influenza and COVID-19 are good examples of this type of global health concern. Third, promoting health and preventing diseases requires protection from harmful or unsafe products and practices. These activities are influenced by transnational corporations (TNCs) and shaped by global markets. Global agreements and policy frameworks to tackle, for example, tobacco and alcohol consumption, and to ensure food security, food safety and nutritional quality, may be necessary for national policy measures to be effective.
Global health policy analysis draws from the understanding of global health as a multidisciplinary and multisectoral practice (Koplan et al, 2009). It is concerned with global agreements, financing, policies and practices of global actors, structures and measures that focus on health and health service provision, as well as the ways in which national and global health policies are shaped by global health issues and other global agreements, actors and processes.
For as long as humankind has existed, we have migrated. Whether in flight from persecution, war, conflict or poverty, or in search of peace, work, a career, a better climate or for love, migration is a normal part of everyday life. At another level, international migration is exceptional, in that international migrants account for just 3.5 per cent of the world’s population. This has remained the case for much of the last century (IOM, 2019, p 3).
Even though the aggregate number of migrants globally is actually rather small, migrants tend to be concentrated in certain areas of the world, hence the socioeconomic and political impacts of migration in relation to global policy-making and global social welfare are substantial, if unevenly distributed and experienced. At one level, migration is a major flashpoint in contemporary global politics, and a factor in widening global inequalities and the growth of political populism worldwide. At another level, migration gives rise to new social formations and welfare arrangements. Transnational connections among people include the sending of remittances, which play a crucial role in sustaining welfare and financing development. Migrant advocacy groups exhibit high degrees of political agency and policy activism. The effects of repeated, continuous movements of people over time impact on social structures, forging multistranded personal and social networks that give rise to diasporic families and communities, linking people and places, societies and economies, and health and welfare systems around the world.
For all these reasons and more besides, migration opens a fascinating vista on to the state of the world’s welfare, the contested politics of global social policy (GSP)-making, and political struggles over global development, state sovereignty, rights and resources.
The goal of global poverty reduction is now at the heart of an international consensus, enshrined within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and pursued by international institutions such as the World Bank and governments in high- and low-income countries alike. But deciding what poverty is, how it should be measured and the best ways to reduce it are not straightforward. Furthermore, related phenomena also demand our attention, particularly the current degree of global inequality and its causes and consequences. In addressing these issues, the aim of this chapter is not to summarise the huge volume of literature on poverty and inequality that now exists, or to explain basic concepts relating to poverty and inequality, which can be found elsewhere. Rather, it aims to explore and explain the challenges of measuring and tackling poverty and inequality at the global level. It will discuss some national-level concepts and data for various countries, but its chief aim in doing so is to explain how these are related to processes of globalisation and how they are incomplete without a global analysis.
The chapter discusses global poverty and inequality in turn. In both cases, it discusses issues of measurement first before going on to discuss the politics and policies related to tackling the problem. It is worth noting from the beginning, however, that measurement issues are not purely technical matters, but are themselves highly political.
Ruth Lister (2021, pp 3–4) argues that ‘there is no single concept of poverty that stands outside history and culture. It is a construction of specific societies.
One of the strong justifications of global social policy (GSP) is the growing theory and practice of global justice. The latter is founded on the moral and political claim that, in today’s globalising world, our duties and obligations to other people extend beyond state borders. This implies that if people elsewhere (in other countries) find themselves in morally disturbing conditions due to unjust outcomes of globalisation or the dire consequences of global diseases such as COVID-19, we are obliged to act to mitigate existing injustices and prevent further injustice. International actions cannot be only by civil society mobilisations and advocacy campaigns. Rather, they can also take the form of institutional actions, including policies of global social redistribution, global social regulation and global social rights. These are GSPs that respond to global injustice, including health inequity and lack of social welfare (Deacon et al, 1997).
Global justice marks the shift from a Hobbesian perspective on international political morality to a Kantian one. The latter is more cosmopolitan and less statist than the former (see the next section). This implies that a Kantian perspective does not presuppose sovereign power for obliging people to follow moral principles. Indeed, some commentators on global justice, such as Amartya Sen (1999), Martha C. Nussbaum (2000), Gillian Brock (2009), Charles Beitz (1999) and Thomas Pogge (2002), argue that although we have special connections with those in close relation to us, we also have relations to humanity as a whole. These relations raise the issue of our obligations to the global citizen.