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Today many people are asking themselves: What is the purpose of employment? What kinds of lives conduce to human fulfillment? What kinds of societies do we seek to create together?
With the changing landscape of work, influenced by digitalization, automation, and artificial intelligence, as well as other technological or social forces, a range of these kinds of profound questions are entering public consciousness.
The New York Office of the Baha’i International Community (BIC) examines these questions in a new statement titled “Employment and Beyond: Drawing on the Capacities of All to Contribute to Society,” which was presented to the 61st session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development.
The statement calls for an examination of the assumptions underlying economic models in relation to employment. (in the next two installments in this series, BahaiTeachings.org will publish the BIC statement in its entirety)
In many contexts, says the BIC, the notion of work has evolved from solely being a means for survival to one that recognizes the creative potential of individuals to contribute to the well-being of society.
This idea underpinned the contributions of the BIC delegation in relation to the Commission’s priority theme for this year: “creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a means of overcoming inequalities …”
The complexities of this pursuit were highlighted in the BIC statement, which reads:
History demonstrates that employment alone does not invariably foster equality. Many countries have, for example, experienced periods in which high rates of employment were accompanied by widening inequalities.
At the UN Civil Society Forum (recording part 1 and part 2) held during the Commission, Liliane Nkunzimana, a representative of the BIC, expanded on this idea, emphasizing that traditional models of employment and wages are not sufficient to foster equitable and flourishing societies.
“The inadequate protection of workers in the formal and informal economy, reveals systemic inequities that prioritize conceptions of progress rooted in narrow self-interests, resulting in the advancement of a handful at the expense of the generality of humankind,” she said.
The challenge, then, is to move toward a more equitable economic system that refuses to exploit some for the benefit of others, a system that upholds the dignity of all people and meets their needs.
Echoing Ms. Nkunzimana’s concerns, Arash Fazli, another member of the delegation and holder of the Baha’i Chair for Studies in Development at Devi Ahilya University in Indore, India, spoke about the need to rethink the dominant economic paradigm that has governed many societies for centuries. He emphasized the importance of interdependence and cooperation.
Dr. Fazli explained that prevalent economic thinking which sees human beings as “utility-maximizing, self-interested actors, and views the pursuit of unlimited economic growth and limitless wealth as the center of society,” has led to a crisis of values, where economic considerations have displaced all other values. “Almost every aspect of human life has been marketized,” he said. “The market has become the mediator of all needs and aspirations of humanity.”
“We need a new set of values based on the nobility of the human being,” added Dr. Fazli, “and principles that foster a sustainable relationship with the natural environment.” He also emphasized the importance of principles that recognize capacity in all people to contribute meaningfully to their societies, that center on the oneness of humanity, and promote the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty.
Reflecting on these discussions, Ms. Nkunzimana underscores the significance of the growing desire at all levels of society to reshape the future of work.
“By enriching conversations about work with an exploration of relevant moral and spiritual principles,” she says, “a deeper understanding can be fostered of the need to not only develop people’s skills and abilities for employment, but also to cultivate people’s commitment to social justice.”
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