Workshop for NHRIs on ‘Communicating Economic and Social Rights’ facilitates collaboration between communication and policy experts

Members of the Communications Working Group and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Working Group in Brussels, Belgium (22 May 2019)

On 22 May, ENNHRI held a workshop on ‘Communicating Economic and Social Rights’ in Brussels aimed at supporting National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) to promote economic and social rights (ESR) through impactful communications. For the first time, two ENNHRI Working Groups – on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) and Communications – came together in a joint meeting, creating a space for communications and policy staff to jointly explore approaches to advancing a positive human rights narrative in Europe.

‘Most people believe in social rights, but they don’t know it yet’

Koldo Casla, Policy Director at Just Fair and Research Fellow at Newcastle University, challenged participants to re-think how they conceptualise and communicate ESR, suggesting that ‘most people believe in social rights, but they don’t know it yet’. Drawing mainly on examples from the United Kingdom, he explained the importance of effective framing and the selection of issues that are known to resonate with the public, even in societies where the idea of human rights may not be popular.

Challenges from a legal and policy perspective

Kavita Chetty from the Scottish NHRI (Scottish Human Rights Commission) spoke about some of the challenges of communicating about ESR from a policy and legal perspective, explaining common misunderstandings related to the multidimensional nature of ESR standards and obligations. For example, she explained that rights are often viewed as being absolute and that the breadth and interrelatedness of ESR are not fully understood.

Approaches to effective messaging

Considering these challenges, research on effective human rights messaging was discussed, including material from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio. This overview document (provided at the workshop) summarises key findings of the research and outlines 7 messaging tips on crafting engaging human rights content.

NHRI representatives also presented good practice from their institutions. Anete Ilves and Ruta Siliņa from the Latvian NHRI (Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Latvia) spoke about their work highlighting human rights abuses in mental health hospitals. The importance of using powerful visuals and clear keywords in their communications work was underlined.

Also, Emma Hutton from the Scottish NHRI (Scottish Human Rights Commission) presented her institution’s audience insights research in relation to ESR in Scotland, highlighting the most effective messages on ESR that resonated with the Scottish public. For example, messages related to a broad and large audience (covering themes like health, economic rights, access to housing and food appeal) worked best.

Using these insights, participants crafted messages tailored to their own national contexts, addressing some of the prominent ESR issues in their countries. The activity sheet can be found here.

Working Group meetings

The workshop came a day after both Working Groups met separately to exchange on their work and plan future activities. The Communications Working Group meeting featured presentations by the NHRIs of Great Britain and Latvia on human rights campaigns, as well as a presentation by Thomas Coombes from Amnesty International on the hope-based communications approach.

At the ESCR Working Group meeting, a representative of the German NHRI presented a draft paper on human rights as public goods, which provided an insight into welfare economic approaches applicable to human rights. Belgian scholar, Olivier de Schutter, also spoke about how NHRIs can use the SDGs to advance their work on poverty from a human rights perspective.

» Learn more about ENNHRI’s work on Economic and Social Rights
» Learn about the outcomes of the last meeting of the ESCR Working Group in April
» Download summary on how SDGs can enhance a human rights-based approach to poverty