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AASW, SDGs & the United Nations

In line with the AASW's strategic plan, the policy and advocacy team has been working with the IFSW in better promoting the role of social work at the UN level and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

What are the UN's Sustainable Development Goals?










The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. These 17 Goals build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, among other priorities. The goals are interconnected – often the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another.

Social workers play an important role in achieving the Goals in working towards community and environmental sustainability.

High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2018


AASW Senior Policy Advisor and RMIT Industry Fellow Dr Sebastian Cordoba attended the 2018 United Nations High Level Political Forum at the UN Headquarters in New York as an International Federation of Social Workers delegate, advocating for the important role of international and Australian social work in promoting community and environmental sustainability. 

The HLPF is the main United Nations platform on sustainable development and it has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the global level.

"To achieve the Goals as social workers we are needed now more than ever. Social workers work with communities who are hardest hit by climate change and play a central goal in promoting sustainable and resilient societies. Social workers are on the front line of human rights protection and it is in our daily work that we ensure that every individual is free from discrimination, oppression and persecution. Whether in direct practice, community development, policy or academia, social workers are key partners in achieving these targets. The forum highlighted how much work is still needed, and how well placed our profession is to make a meaningful contribution towards creating an equitable, socially just and sustainable world."

Dr Sebastian Cordoba
IFSW short term representative to the United Nations

Click here to access a news story on the forum from the IFSW website.

AASW Submission to the Australian Senate's inquiry into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

In our submission we argue that:

It is the AASW’s position that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an important mechanism through which we can collectively address some of the biggest challenges currently facing Australia, and the world, with a particular focus on human rights and social justice.

Social workers are deeply committed to human rights. It forms the basis of our professional values and provides a framework through which we can better understand what the people we work with are experiencing. As social workers we are on the front line of human rights protection and it is our daily work to ensure that every individual is free from discrimination, oppression and persecution. As such we are key partners in assuring that the ideals and beliefs enshrined in all the relevant declarations have meaning in the daily lives of all Australians. Unfortunately, the current political, social and economic situation highlights how much work is still needed.

Continued reports from the United Nations and numerous other organisations emphasise how Australia is failing in protecting the rights of so many of its citizens and those it has been tasked to look after. We welcome the opportunity to provide a submission to this inquiry and this government’s interest in SDGs. We believe SDGs provide an important opportunity to work together under a shared framework towards assuring that every person, group and community is given the basic protections they require and a sustainable environment to achieve their full potential.

You can now access the final report that supports several of the AASW's recommendations and repeatedly cites our submission.

Social Work Day at the United Nations 2017

By Dr Sebastian Cordoba -
Senior Policy Advisor/ RMIT Industry Fellow

Every year, in coordination with the International Federation of Social Workers and the International Association of Schools of Social Work, the United Nations (UN) hosts a day-long event to recognise and celebrate the contribution of social workers. This year in April, the AASW’s social policy advocate, Sebastian Cordoba, was the Australian delegate in New York.

‘Social Work Day at the UN’ is a unique opportunity for social workers from all around the world to discuss the vital role that the profession plays in the protection of human rights. In recent years, the event has focused on how the professional community can contribute to meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The goals are a set of 17 global targets supported by 193 member states that look to address the world’s most pressing issues, including ending poverty, climate action and reducing inequality. Given the current global political climate, social work skills and knowledge are instrumental to achieving these aims.

The UN recognises that as human rights advocates, social workers are key partners. The day tends to focus on discussing and identifying the major social and environmental challenges we are currently facing and exploring the ways in which social workers can come together and better coordinate our efforts. Given the AASW’s reputation at an international level for our advocacy work, especially in relation to asylum seekers, we were invited to attend this year.

The day proved to be an inspiring opportunity to build professional networks and better align our advocacy work to that of the UN, and fellow associations from other countries. The day began with a morning session in the main UN building where keynote speakers explored the theme for this year, ‘Promoting Community and Environmental Sustainability’. Highlights included hearing Ambassador Masud Bin Momen (permanent representative of the Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations) talk about the impacts of climate change on Bangladesh and the vital role of social workers to address these devastating impacts. The central theme was the injustice that characterises a lot of the impacts of climate change, where the countries that emit the least amount of pollution (for example, Bangladesh) tend to feel the effects with greater severity.

As the Australian representative, I had the opportunity to address the room and pose a point for discussion to the panel on the challenges many Australian social workers face in incorporating green social work principles to daily practice, given the significant time and resourcing limitations. The discussion focused on how environmental justice can inform all aspects of work, including a fascinating reframing of advocacy and direct action as a form of self-care. The ideas will greatly inform the work of the AASW in this space into the future. The AASW also took the opportunity in New York to personally deliver a letter to the UN’s Human Rights Council stating its opposition to Australia’s nomination. Australia has recently bid for a seat on the council and this has raised significant concerns because of our country’s human rights record. Given the importance of the Human Rights Council and its leadership role, its membership must be made up of countries with a commitment and proven track record of protecting human rights. Sadly, Australia currently does not meet this standard and as an association we cannot support this nomination until there is a significant change in policy.

Attending the UN was an incredible opportunity to raise the profile of the work that Australian social workers undertake every day in advocating for social justice and human rights. The relationships and professional networks that were established in New York will greatly assist our work in striving towards a more socially and environmentally just Australia, and world.

Get involved

We are developing an Australian Social Work SDG Action Group, if you are interested in taking part please email


AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers