Saying “No” to a degraded form of social work

A call to action from two social work colleagues involved with Social Workers 4 Change in Ireland. The RSW collective stand in solidarity with them. Please read and sign the petition.

Please support the campaign to restore ‘human rights’ to the Irish Code of Ethics. In 2019 the Irish regulatory body for social work (CORU) unilaterally removed all references to ‘human rights’ from the Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics, the legally binding Code which governs the profession in the Republic of Ireland (see also Garrett, 2021).

This act of banditry arrived unannounced. CORU gave no indication in a 2019 review consultation process that references to ‘human rights’ were to be removed from the Code, nor has any explanation been provided for the removal. On World Social Work day, 2022, social work students and practitioners in the Social Workers 4 Change collective launched a campaign to have all the ‘human rights’ references reinstated.

The foreword to CORU’s original 2011 Code states ‘Social Work is a profession based on principles of Human Rights and Social Justice.’ There were six further references to ‘human rights’ in the 2011 Code, highlighting just how fundamental such rights are the social work profession.

As we know, social work is based on the values and principles of human rights and social justice. The International Federation of Social Work’s ‘Global Definition of Social Work’, notes ‘Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work’. This definition has been adopted globally and translated into 28 languages and social work organisations in countries such as Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Finland, Canada, South Korea, and England all include copious references to ‘human rights’ in their Codes of Ethics.

Indeed, global recognition for human rights in social work is apparent. The British Association of Social Work asserts that ‘human rights’ are more than legal obligations and should be a fundamental part of the ethics of social work (BASW, 2019, p.9). The social work profession in Aotearoa New Zealand is ‘committed to respecting the dignity of every person as the foundation of its ethical principles, and to national and international codes of Human Rights’ (ANZASW, 2019, p.9). The Finnish Code states ‘human rights are not a luxury we can sometimes afford: they are binding obligations, for which the State is responsible’ (Heikkinen, 2019, p.5).

The removal of the phrase ‘human rights’ from CORU’s Code has
implications for how we individually and collectively understand, frame and practice our profession. Moreover, in a global landscape of increasing inequality, worsening climate crisis, and conflict, the ‘need for social workers who are confident advocates for human rights and social change is becoming even more important’ (Maglajlic and Ioakimidis 2020, p. 1941). As social workers, we aim to work democratically, in partnership and co-operatively, facilitating, advocating confronting oppressive structures.

We must, therefore, strenuously oppose the removal of ‘human rights’ from the Irish Code of Ethics. This is an act of ‘symbolic violence’ that strikes at the very heart of the profession. It might also be viewed as a ‘coup from above’ – a manifestly political intervention that is seeking to usher in a degraded and politically tame form of social work that entirely fits with managerial and neoliberal imperatives. Furthermore, the revised Code should be viewed as fairly blatant attempt to prevent social workers relying on a ‘human rights defence’ if they choose to act in defiance of any government and/or employer demands that run counter to such rights. More fundamentally, what is implied is that registered social workers in Ireland possess ‘appropriate’ ideological views and perceptions. If not, they risk becoming ‘unfit’ for neoliberal purposes.

We ask our global social work colleagues and allies to support our

We sincerely appreciate your global solidarity!

Sign the petition.

Social Workers 4 Change


ANZASW (2019). Code of Ethics. Available from:

BASW (2019). Social work and human rights: A practice guide. Available from:

CORU (2011). Code of professional conduct and ethics. Available from: 

CORU (2019). Code of professional conduct and ethics. Available from:

Garrett, P. M. (2021). Dissenting social work: critical theory, resistance and pandemic. Routledge.

Heikkinen, A. (Ed.) (2019). Work, values and ethics: Ethical guidelines for social welfare professionals. Available from:

Maglajlic, R. A. and Ioakimidis, V. (2020). Editorial: new beginnings and enduring concerns—inequalities, social justice and understanding of structural issues in social work practice, education and knowledge production. British Journal of Social Work, 50 (7), 1937–1941.

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