Economic and Social Rights

As bridges between the state and civil society, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are well-placed to empower individuals in claiming their economic and social rights and encourage their participation in policy making. This is particularly important given that, more than a decade after the global financial crisis, some economic and social policies and decisions in Europe continue to be at odds with international human rights standards. This area is a key collective priority for European NHRIs. Through our Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Working Group, we facilitate joint work on a range of issues, such as poverty, housing and social security.

Role of NHRIs in realising economic and social rights

In 2019, we have placed a special focus on showcasing the role of NHRIs in realising economic and social rights in Europe. Our Annual Conference 2019 brings together regional and international organisations and civil society with European NHRIs to explore how a human rights-based approach to policies can have a positive impact on the enjoyment of economic and social rights and lead to improved economic and social cohesion in Europe. The conference has a specific focus on poverty, the right to housing, labour rights, justiciability and the promotion of economic and social rights.

We have also developed an interactive tool to explore European NHRIs’ practices in the area of economic and social rights.

The 6th edition of the NHRI Academy also focused on economic and social rights, providing an open environment for sharing good practices among NHRI peers and other supporters and partners, including NGOs, academics and regional human rights organisations.

Human rights-based approach to poverty reduction and measurement

Poverty is not only a lack of income; it is a lack of access to human rights. Given their broad human rights mandate and position between civil society and the state NHRIs are ideal actors in supporting a human rights-based approach to poverty reduction and measurement.

We have developed a guide to support European NHRIs in their work to advance a human rights-based approach to poverty reduction and measurement while also making use of the Sustainable Development Goals (forthcoming: November 2019). The guide is based on an extensive study conducted at our request by Olivier de Schutter, Professor at UCLouvain and SciencesPo and member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Economic and social rights in times of limits resources (austerity)

Due to ongoing fiscal consolidation policies and reforms in Europe, we have prioritised work on protecting human rights in times of limited resources. European NHRIs have engaged with the UN Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt, the Council of Europe European Committee of Social Rights and civil society organisations to explore how human rights standards can be used to guide economic policy; NHRIs can play an advisory role in this regard. For example, NHRIs from Great Britain, Greece and Ireland have monitored the impact of austerity measures on vulnerable groups, including people living in poverty.

We have brought together representatives from NHRIs of countries affected by austerity measures to explore opportunities for cooperation in elaborating appropriate human rights analysis of the policy measures. Two events in 2013 provided a platform to discuss how economic policy-making can follow human rights-based methods in such a way that human rights as norms and standards become guiding criteria that have to be considered in all areas of economic policy-making, as well as in financial policy recommendations.

CoE-FRA-ENNHRI-Equinet Collaborative Platform on Social and Economic Rights

Since its establishment in 2015, we have been actively participating in the CoE-FRA-ENNHRI-Equinet Collaborative Platform on social and economic rights, together with the Council of Europe, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and the European Network of Equality Bodies (Equinet). The Platform provides an opportunity to explore ways of ensuring that the European Social Charter and other international human rights standards relating to economic and social rights are considered in the design and implementation of national legislation and practice. It also brings NHRIs and National Equality Bodies to forefront of this effort.