Social Injustice

Social injustice impedes growth and development, hampering or even halting improvement in living standards, fair distribution of income, creation of opportunities, and the elimination of inequalities. The inadequacy of economic growth, imbalances in economic structures, and imperfections in education and training systems contribute to, and are aggravated by, unjust conditions in the world.


Injustice is a quality relating to unfairness or undeserved outcomes. The term may be applied in reference to a particular event or situation, or to a larger status quo. In Western philosophy and jurisprudence, injustice is very commonly—but not always—defined as either the absence or the opposite of justice.

The sense of injustice is a universal human feature, though the exact circumstances considered unjust can vary from culture to culture. While even acts of nature can sometimes arouse the sense of injustice, the sense is usually felt in relation to human action such as misuse, abuse, neglect, or malfeasance that is uncorrected or else sanctioned by a legal system or fellow human beings.

The sense of injustice can be a powerful motivational condition, causing people to take action not just to defend themselves but also others who they perceive to be unfairly treated.


The systematic oppression of older people by younger ones. People of advancing age are silenced by retirement and the cult of youth, and isolated from contact with other age groups. The result is a peculiarly suicidal vision of life as a journey to nowhere. Health, welfare and social programs for the aged have to deal with this pervasive attitude not only among younger people, but often as strongly among the elderly themselves.


Racism and racial discrimination are in practice used in a range of overlapping ways. The ambiguity of their use often causes political and even scientific discourse to become confused and itself prevents progress towards constructive solutions. Racial discrimination can be considered as the broader concept following its definition in the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination as any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in political, economic, social, cultural or any other fields of public life. Such discrimination may be based upon ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one color or ethnic origin, which may be used to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in a wide variety of forms. Such action may encourage acts of violence or incitement to such acts against groups of persons of another color or ethnic origin. 

Racism has been the subject of several declarations by UNESCO. In 1978 it was defined as including racist ideologies, prejudiced attitudes, discriminatory behavior, and institutionalized practices, resulting in racial inequality, as well as the fallacious notion that discriminatory relations between groups are morally and scientifically justifiable. Racism as a doctrine attributes the determination of human capacities to specific inherited physical traits that are considered to distinguish a race. Prejudice and discrimination on the ground of race, color or ethnic origin occur in a number of societies, where physical appearance – notably skin color – and ethnic origin are accorded prime importance. "Racism" has increasingly come to mean the hostility that one person feels for another because of his or her color alone. These racist beliefs have been so widespread that although authoritatively and consistently proved to be erroneous, they still continue to be an important cause of prejudice. 

Racism, which takes a number of forms, is a complex phenomenon involving a whole range of economic, political, historical, cultural, social and psychological factors. It is generally a tool used by certain groups to reinforce their political and economic power, the most serious cases being those involving apartheid and genocide. Racism exists in all parts of the world. Violence, even genocide against indigenous groups, has become endemic in many countries. Racism is often aggravated by international systems backed by powerful economic and military factors. Land rights claims of indigenous peoples are often rejected in the name of development and national security. Immigration policies and practices discriminate on the basis of race in many parts of Europe, Asia and North America. Education policies deny equality of opportunity and employment on the ground of race.

Although maintaining the conception of a socially unified society, racial divisions may be preserved but expressed in other terms, so that in reality there is racial differentiation. Some characteristics of society favor a racial differential, incorporated in polity, and expressed as cultural barriers, de-facto segregation, inequality and demographic recognition of racial and ethnic categories. Conflict may be acknowledged but the significance of racial and ethnic difference for the conflict may be denied.


Slavery takes many forms, and although some of the more extreme and widespread of these forms have been virtually eradicated, more subtle forms still exist. The essence of slavery is ownership, its corollary is exploitation.

Slavery is also the looting of the wealth and resources of the victim countries and, when such exploitation went on for centuries, it is undeniable that the harm caused is huge and difficult, if not impossible, to quantify even if its reality is undoubted despite the time that has elapsed.


Apartheid, the South African government's policy of 'separate development' for all groups 'within their own communities', was a series of systematic acts of oppression and discrimination against the overwhelming majority of the population of South Africa. It rendered non-whites political and social outcasts in their own fatherland; violated human rights, especially the right to self-determination; and permeated all aspects of life. Blacks, as part of the policy of total social segregation, were forced to live in 'homelands', a move which not only caused great suffering, but also bred crime, violence and oppression caused by rivalries between 'haves' and 'have-nots'; and hunger, disease, and starvation became the marks of many communities. As apartheid translated into extreme poverty for the black community, it was the women and children who suffered most. Able-bodied men often worked and lived in urban areas, while their wives and families were unable to secure passes for these areas and remained on the homelands, thus negating prospects for a normal family life, and also engendering high numbers of illegitimate children. 'Pass laws' were strictly enforced in the white urban areas and the fines imposed on those who illegally employ blacks had a marked effect on the scope for employment of women. In order to remain in the area, married women had to be included in the residential rights of their husbands, who had to be present after the 'lawful entry' of the wives. If a black woman became widowed or divorced, she might lose her eligibility to live and work in the urban area.

Forced removal to the homelands resulted in uneven population growth; huge tracts of the country could well become perpetual wastelands if development was neglected in the areas made barren by the removals. On the homelands, large numbers of people had no land to cultivate and had to spend most of their money on imported basic foodstuffs. Children were often forced to work in an effort to counter the shortage of male labor, and were severely exploited; those who were not offspring of farm laborers lived in squalid communal huts and had to cook for themselves. They had an inadequate diet and received no education.

Apartheid viewed blacks as cheap labor without rights of their own. Black agricultural workers were excluded from unemployment and sickness benefits; black miners had to work in mines where lax or non-existent safety measures resulted in many accidents, some fatal, and those who refused to work in unsafe mines might be fired without notice; violations of trade union freedoms were rampant; and all blacks, regardless of their trade, had little or no hope for job improvement. Dissenters of apartheid, even women and children, were often subjected to brutal and sophisticated torture; political trials might last 3-4 years, with the accused spending all that time in goal; suspicious deaths of detainees were known; the press was forbidden to publish reports or photographs of people under 'banning orders', and those banned could not communicate with more than one other person at a time.


Scapegoats are frequently individuals, but may also be ethnic, racial, religious, linguistic, class or political groupings which are blamed collectively by another group or groups for economic hardship, political oppression, discrimination and other major ills. Elitist groups tend to play off discontented subordinate groups against one another. This was particularly practiced under colonial rule, and against Jews in Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany. Gipsies are also used as scapegoats.

Unjust laws

Since the time of the Conquest, alien laws and regulations had been imposed on the Guatemalan people - a legal system that protected the conquerors and destroyed the centuries-old organizational structures of the indigenous population. For nearly five centuries the system for the administration of justice has served those who held economic and political power.


Segregation is the establishment by law or custom of separate (and often inferior) facilities for social, ethnic or religious groups by providing separate educational, recreational, and other services. Segregation inevitably results in discrimination in favor of one group over the other or others. The word covers a whole range of discriminatory practices including the denial of employment and voting rights and prohibition against intermarriage. More generally speaking, it also occurs in education, housing, public services and on age, sexual and class grounds.

Urban poverty

Urban poverty is, in a sense, an overflow of rural poverty. Because rural people in the low-income group find themselves 'unemployable' in the urban environment as a result of their deficient education and training, they continue to be poor. According to the Urban Management Program of the UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), urban poverty encompasses three main issues: lack of adequate employment, lack of appropriate urban services and insufficient social integration.

Forced labor

Forced labor covers a wide range of practices, from slavery to compulsory national service of a military or civil kind. Its effect varies from the total subjugation of prisoners, particularly political prisoners or prisoners-of-war, and of slaves, to the hardships endured by people recruited for national service. It may have severe adverse physical effects especially in the case of the two former. Forced labor associated with malnutrition and crippling diseases has led to the death of millions.


The condition of being without a nationality or without a legal right to domicile may arise from the refusal to grant nationality; deprivation of nationality; or expulsion (usually for political reasons, though also for misconduct). Statelessness involves homelessness, loss of property, unemployment, separation of family through nationality complications, general disorientation and conflict in countries which give asylum to stateless persons in large numbers.

Social exclusion

Contemporary mass society creates individuals and social groups who are left on the cultural and economic edges, and certainly out of the mainstream process of decision-making. This tendency toward homogeneity at the center of things makes consensus much easier, because only a part of society is included in it. Minorities of any kind play a fixed role that does not disturb the central processes overly much. This marginalizing process erodes society at its base, because there is no common reference point for people.

Racial exploitation

Exploitation of other races on a class basis (usually lower than that of the exploiter) and as a source of high profit for little expenditure, may occur in the spheres of housing, employment and sexual relations. It may be legalized (as in the South African system of apartheid), or it may be the result of non-legalized discrimination and the lack of protection under the law. It may be illegal (such as traffic in immigrant workers to developed countries) but practiced with the compliance of the immigrants who have been misled by exaggerated promises.

Disadvantaged groups

Disadvantages of economically poor and/or minority groups typically include deprivations in housing, education, work opportunity and medical care (most often pre-natal); and are associated with family disruption, faulty identity formation or malignant identity diffusion, and excessively high rates of juvenile offences and of admissions to mental hospitals.

Denial of human rights

Active repression of human rights (including the right to work, education, social security, health, national self-determination, individual liberty, freedom of thought, expression, movement, privacy, religion, and ideology) or passive refusal to ensure human rights, usually on the part of governments, but also on the part of groups and individuals, occurs regardless of constitutions, legal provisions and bona fide statements. Human societies are so organized that in practice they tend to deny at least some of man's inalienable rights to some of its members on the grounds of race, color, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The widespread violations of human rights over the globe relate to the insecurity of governments that do not have a broad popular support; to the need to maintain national security in times of real or perceived external threat; to the imposition of a form of organization of society on the minority or majority that do not accept it; to the maintenance of political stability seen as a sine qua non for economic and social progress; to, sometimes, the personal idiosyncrasies or perversity of dictators; and, perhaps, to the conception of power seen and lived as limitless, by conviction or tactic.

Religious intimidation

Religious persecution consists in making an offence of certain religious beliefs, or of their natural expression in speech, writing, or religious observances. The term is loosely used of mob violence, which is sometimes encouraged or connived at by the authorities; but in its stricter form refers to legal action. Whilst there is some doubt of the exact point where political precaution passes into religious persecution, in practice any punishment of religious belief or interference with religious action is persecution, except so far as it can be justified by real public danger or by gross and public scandal or disorder.

Religious persecution may be part of a social, political or economic conflict between two religious groups which may conduct terrorist activities against each other. Force or superior power may be used to exploit a different religious group through fear. This may be achieved by physical or psychological intimidation, terrorism, indoctrination and occultism. Indoctrination and moralism may produce a guilt complex. Fear of the occult and of being cursed may cause mental disorder, physical disease and even death (as is recorded in tribal societies).

Economic discrimination

A country, or group within a country, is discriminated against whenever earnings are shown to be lower than that warranted by abilities. 

Inequality of opportunity

Distortionary tax systems

When government needs to reduce public deficits, the economic cost of raising more revenue is weighed against the cost of public spending. The temptation in the short-run is to rely on ad hoc increases in taxation because they are administratively and politically convenient. But in many countries this has led to complex and highly distortionary tax systems that not only fail to collect sufficient revenue but also damage long-term growth and increase the burden on the poor.

Exploitation in employment

The most extreme form of exploitation in employment is slavery. Most groups which are exploited in employment are underprivileged groups, such as indigenous populations, women, children, immigrants, the illiterate, and the lowest levels of national society, the aged, and the disabled. Such groups may not have the knowledge or other means to combat exploitation and may sink into a state of apathy and resignation. Discrimination and segregation are two tools on which exploitation thrives. Existing trade unions may bar minority groups from becoming members, thus leaving them defenseless against unscrupulous employers. Where legislation exists against unjust employment conditions and rates of pay, it may be inadequate or inadequately enforced.

Lack of environmental justice

Poorer people suffer most from environmental problems in a wide range of areas -- food, transport, factories and fuel. Other groups also bear an unjust burden of environmental problems, including ethnic communities, women, children, and people in developing countries and future generations, not to mention non-human species.

International economic injustice

The developing countries, which constitute 70% of the world's population, account for only 30% of the world's income. It has proved impossible to achieve an even and balanced development of the international community under the existing international economic order. The gap between the industrialized and the developing countries continues to widen in a system which perpetuates inequality and which was established at a time when most of the developing countries did not even exist as independent states. The present international economic order is in direct conflict with current developments in international political and economic relations. Since 1970, the world economy has experienced a series of grave crises, which have had severe repercussions, especially on the developing countries, because of their generally greater vulnerability to external economic impulses.

Discrimination against minorities

Discrimination against minorities exists on racial, religious, linguistic, ideological, political or economic grounds and may take place in education, employment, housing and public services. Minority groups may be barred from certain schools or segregated in their own, by practice or by choice, which may be less adapted for conditions in the society at large. Their educational level, prejudice and fear of certain ideologies work against minority groups in recruitment for jobs, thus barring them from obtaining adequate housing, nourishment, clothing, etc. Minorities may be prevented from taking part in certain activities by law; in the case of religious sects, their services may be banned. Small nations may suffer from foreign debt problems and be discriminated against by donor or investing countries on the strength of their political ideology and economic system. Small island states and territories may be dominated by an outside power militarily, politically or economically.

Non-productive athletic activities

Denial of right to a legal defense

Discrepancies in human life evaluation

The value of human life as regarding matters of health, security, value to the community, etc., may vary according to the economic and social status of the person considered. The evaluation of human life in the sense of the degree of pollution or disease which is considered acceptable may be based on commercial considerations. In societies where the social unit is important and not the individual, individual interest will be sacrificed towards the common good. In an elitist society the individual good may be sacrificed simply because it is considered more expendable than that of the elite.

Separate and unequal development within societies


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