Economic Inequality

Extreme inequality is one of the defining issues of our time, with the gap between rich and poor widening across the globe. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave equal recognition to economic and social rights alongside civil and political rights, the human rights community is only just beginning to address the full implications of rising inequality and entrenched poverty on individuals and societies. How can a human rights framework help make sense of the causes and consequences of economic injustice, what would a more just arrangement look like, and what strategies and tactics can help get us there?

 

View collections on:

The Sustainable Development Goals

 

The pandemic of inequality

By: Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky 
Español

What do inequalities, Covid-19, and human rights have to do with each other?

The #PayUp Campaign is intensifying, but don’t forget the women workers leading the movement

By: Mayisha Begum
Español

By neglecting the importance of women workers in the Global South as central to systemic change, we risk sustaining a movement focused on the ideals of Northern ...

Mobilizing empathy for a truly cosmopolitan human rights

By: Shareen Hertel
Español

If it was difficult to show the interconnections among people and rights before the onset of COVID-19, we have an opportunity to do so now.

Can the African regional human rights system preserve ESC rights in a pandemic?

By: Stanley Ibe
Français

Many states still fail to realize that protecting the rights of the poor will ultimately make addressing a pandemic—and other global crises—easier.

Cosmopolitan human rights and local transformations: in tension or in tandem?

By: LaDawn Haglund
Español

The essentializing of “urban inhabitants” as somehow sharing a destiny ignores inequalities among inhabitants that may require more fundamental restructuring to ...

US foreign policy aggravates human rights abuses in the Philippines during COVID

By: Miles Ashton & Azadeh Shahshahani
Español | Français | Tagalog

The Trump administration is enabling Duterte’s abuses in the Philippines with unconditional support in the name of US foreign policy.

A post-pandemic world: well-being for all or deepening inequality?

By: Guillermo Torres
Español

Putting fear aside as we emerge from this pandemic will allow space for what we value most in people: empathy, solidarity and mutual support.

Returning to “normal” is impossible for India’s tea plantation workers

By: Shreya Sen
Español

Workers in India’s tea plantations have pre-existing health and environmental conditions that make them highly vulnerable to COVID-19, making a return to “normal” ...

London refugee groups offer online services but face disparities in connectivity

By: Christa Blackmon
Français | العربية

With millions of the world’s students now facing extended learning at home, the required access to the internet—and to the right devices—is exposing drastic inequalities.

Coronavirus in austerity Britain: poverty and discrimination compounded

By: Imogen Richmond-Bishop & Sara Bailey

The global pandemic—following ten years of draconian austerity measures in the UK—has created a perfect storm of human rights violations against already marginalized ...

Who will defend the rule of law, if not Amnesty?

By: Sonya Sceats
Español | Français

As Amnesty frames its goals in terms of confronting power and structural injustice, it risks weakening its defense of the rule of law—at precisely the moment when ...

New policies for a new crisis

By: Koldo Casla
Español

Human rights activists don’t have all the answers to the pandemic, but they should focus on protecting the most vulnerable, and be alert to creeping authoritarianism.

Global HIV/AIDS response, shows human rights is path to success against COVID-19

By: Steven L. B. Jensen
Español | Français

The global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic found success when it put human rights at the core of its efforts, a lesson of key importance to our present and future ...

It’s time for human rights NGOs to challenge systems, not symptoms

By: Sherif Elsayed-Ali
Español

To win support, human rights NGOs must challenge systems, not symptoms, step up their work on ESR, and provide practical solutions to the problems they expose.

Rising household debt: curse or blessing for human rights?

By: Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky 
Español

Bad social policies and predatory bank practices are forcing larger numbers of people into personal debt, with serious consequences for key human rights and overall ...

Putting human rights at the centre of struggles for health and social equality

By: Alicia Ely Yamin
Español

We’ve made progress on economic and social rights, but the human rights community needs new, much more collaborative strategies to challenge the inequalities underlying ...

The UN Human Development Report must go farther on inequality

By: Steven L. B. Jensen
Español

In order for human rights and development to be mutually reinforcing, the connection between the two must be made as explicit as possible.

Can international human rights law be creatively deployed to expand its protections?

By: Raymond A. Smith
Español

How can international human rights law be creatively deployed to expand protections to other characteristics related to severe and systematic rights violations?

Inequality a prominent concern for UN human rights monitors

By: Steven L. B. Jensen
Español | Français

UN human rights bodies are highlighting inequality when making recommendations to states – showing that this issue should be seen and acted on as a central human ...

Global protests demand human rights actors tackle economic injustice

By: Ignacio Saiz
Español | العربية

Human rights advocates should be as concerned with the economic injustices giving rise to recent worldwide demonstrations as with the repressive responses to them.

Despite supposed food assistance in India, people are starving to death

By: Pradeep Baisakh

Social systems in India are crumbling, leading to starvation deaths despite a plethora of food security programs. What is going wrong?

Economic and social rights force us to pressure a return to the state

By: Katharine G. Young
Español | Français

Constitutional entrenchment is only part of the battle for recognition of economic and social rights, as many South African cases have made clear.

What does that mean here? Localizing human rights in the UK

By: Koldo Casla & Kath Dalmeny
Español

Some people believe that there is a lot of skepticism towards international human rights in England, but experiences of localization of rights are making a difference ...

Seeds of inequality: women in sustainable agriculture

By: Karine Belarmino & Marie Schaedel
Español

Control over land management may be more important than mere legal entitlement when it comes to women’s land rights.

Fiscal policy is key to achieving SDGs and avoiding “climate apartheid”

By: Philip Alston & Nikki Reisch
Español

Delivering on the SDG’s promise to reduce economic inequality requires progressive taxation and effective enforcement to ensure wealthy businesses and individuals ...

UN human rights mechanisms proving effective SDGs monitor

By: Steven L. B. Jensen
Español | Français | العربية

The SDGs are mostly aligned with human rights objectives—to emphasize this, the UN human rights mechanisms are showing a willingness to hold states accountable ...

The United States’ Global Water Strategy must recognize these rights at home

By: Inga T. Winkler & JoAnn Kamuf Ward
Español

The United States—and many other wealthy nations—are facing an invisible but profound crisis of sanitation coverage that disproportionately affects poor and rural ...

Silencing the drama - Do the SDG indicators expose the injustices that limit women’s sexual and reproductive lives?

By: Alicia Ely Yamin
Español

The SDGs are a step forward for women’s equality and sexual and reproductive rights, but the indicators used to measure progress may prove problematic for rights ...

Inaction on gender equality puts SDGs at risk

By: Marte Hellema & Hannie Meesters
Español

If there is no fundamental and transformational change in how gender equality is addressed as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the entire SDG agenda is ...

Human rights—tackling inequality by catalyzing the agents of social change

By: Jackie Dugard
Español | Français

Some argue human rights are insufficient to tackle inequality but overlook the emancipatory power of rights—to create the space to mobilize for change, a dynamic ...

New and inclusive measuring needed for SDG promise of access to justice for all

By: Sukti Dhital & Meg Satterthwaite
Español | Français

SDG 16 promises access to justice for all, but current plans for measuring progress are far too limited. There are opportunities in 2019 to change this.

Crucial year ahead to pursue access to justice for all

By: Elizabeth Andersen
Español

Several key events in 2019 provide a real opportunity to progress on SDG 16—ensuring access to justice for all—and to do so in ways that tackle inequality too.

Irish Traveller communities in Cork monitor and campaign for social rights

By: Koldo Casla

Traveller communities in Ireland are using international human rights law to monitor their housing conditions and to demand action from the local council. And they ...

Could “hope and aspirations” end the vicious cycle of poverty?

By: Keetie Roelen
Español

Non-invasive and non-punitive interventions that draw on positive emotions have promising potential to break the poverty cycle, but this approach risks ignoring ...

Rising inequality is a wake-up call for human rights

By: Ignacio Saiz
Español

The challenges that economic inequality poses for human rights are not the death knell for the movement but a wake-up call for a more holistic approach.

The SDGs and gender equality: empty promises or beacon of hope?

By: Kate Donald  & Silke Staab
Français | Español

In a challenging global context for equality and women’s rights, a new UN Women report illustrates how human rights can move SDGs beyond rhetoric of “leaving no ...

Breaking the human rights gridlock by embracing the Sustainable Development Goals

By: Ted Piccone
Español | 简体中文 | العربية | Français

The dangers of a growing global divergence on human rights, with the rise of authoritarian powers, might be avoided by embracing the global consensus of rights-based ...

Court judgements are shaking political foundations—and upholding rights

By: James A. Goldston
Español

In Kenya, Guatemala and Brazil, courts have defied presidents and shaken up politics—is court-centric advocacy one of the few remaining avenues to legitimately ...

Evicted rights in Spain: no room of one’s own

By: Koldo Casla
Español

Thousands of people are being evicted in Spain due to austerity measures, and women are disproportionately affected by structural inequality.

New strategies for tackling inequality with human rights

By: Martín Abregú

To confront inequality, the Ford Foundation is harnessing the human rights framework to address political and socio-economic systems.

Using the Sustainable Development Goals as a weapon against populism

By: Martin S. Edwards & Lis Kabashi

The Sustainable Development Goals could give activists the rhetoric they need to hold the Trump administration accountable.

Tackling inequality: the potential of the Sustainable Development Goals

By: Kate Donald 
Español

Sustainable Development Goal 10 on reducing inequality will require profound changes to “business-as-usual” and close attention to human rights.

Human rights are not losing traction in the global South

By: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr 
Español

In the debate on whether human rights have stalled, analysts are ignoring huge strides in socioeconomic improvements in the global South.

Tackling economic inequality with the right to non-discrimination

By: David Barrett

Inequality may be compatible with human rights, but not if it violates the right to non-discrimination.

Putting universality into the Universal Periodic Review

By: Allison Corkery 
Español

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review is systematically marginalizing economic and social rights.

Inequality, business and human rights: the new frontier?

By: Uwe Gneiting 

Despite the growing urgency to address inequality, the business and human rights field has remained rather silent on the issue. Why?

Two forums, two approaches to advancing the SDGs and human rights

By: Savio Carvalho

Recent global assemblies make it clear—to achieve the SDGs we need to find ways to hold governments, UN agencies and the private sector accountable for the pledges ...

Phantom rights: the systemic marginalization of economic and social rights

By: Philip Alston
Español

Neither the UN nor civil society is doing much about the deep resistance of many states to proper recognition of economic and social rights.

To implement Agenda 2030 in Africa, people must be at the centre

By: Charles Kojo Vandyck  & Maame Darkwaa Twum Barima

Increasing threats to citizens’ freedoms will derail the sustainable development goals.

The UK government cannot reconcile austerity measures with human rights

By: Jamie Burton & Alice Donald & Koldo Casla

UK governments have claimed austerity measures are necessary while ignoring the disproportionate adverse effects on marginalized groups.

The International Labour Organization: workers rights champion or 90-pound weakling?

By: Gordon Digiacomo

The ILO oversees the global protection of workers’ rights. It should consider instigating and/or supporting litigation in courts to serve that purpose.

The vicious spiral of economic inequality and financial crises

By: Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky 

There is compelling evidence that economic inequality is both a result of, and contributor to, economic crises

Who will take the lead on economic inequality, and who should?

By: Chris Albin-Lackey

Human rights lack the best language and tools to describe and solve inequality’s most pernicious impacts

Using budget analysis to confront governments: what practitioners need to know

By: Ian Allen & Megan Manion & Thandi Matthews & Robert Ralston

Millions of dollars that could address socio-economic disparities are lost through illicit financial flows, but budget analysis could help.

How to get inequality on the global policy agenda

By: Leonard Seabrooke & Duncan Wigan

The Panama Papers give NGOs a prime opportunity to talk about inequality. But how they do it matters.

Everyone does better when everyone does better

By: Savio Carvalho

For long-term social and economic stability, investments into increased economic equality are essential for everyone’s prosperity.

Tackling inequality as injustice: four challenges for the human rights agenda

By: Gaby Oré Aguilar & Ignacio Saiz
Español | Français

Human rights can help confront economic inequality, but four conceptual, normative, strategic and methodological challenges must be overcome.

Inequality is more than just a problem for developing countries

By: Todd Landman 
Español

Advanced economies are also experiencing persistent and increasing inequality, and its effect on human rights is alarming.

Inequality, human dignity and the power of unions

By: Sergio Chaparro Hernández
Español

Why does progress on equity and human rights depend more on workers’ organization than we usually think?

What does Zika have to do with inequality? Everything.

By: Rachel Schmidt
Español

Women’s rights advocates are using fears around Zika to fight for better access to birth control, but in Latin America the issues run much deeper than that.

It’s about values: human rights norms and tolerance for inequality

By: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr 

Using principles of non-discrimination and status equality, human rights have the potential to fill the ethical void in economics.

How inequality threatens all human rights

By: Radhika Balakrishnan & James Heintz
Español | Français | العربية

Inequality is not only a threat to economic and social rights—it threatens the realization of all forms of rights everywhere.

Human rights and the age of inequality

By: Samuel Moyn
Español | Français | العربية

The human rights regime and movement are simply not equipped to challenge global inequalities.

Will SDGs lofty ambition undermine advocacy to achieve them?

By: Charles F. Maccormack & Sarah Stroup
Español

The SDGs are certainly more comprehensive, and inclusive of human rights concerns and all relevant actors, than the previous development goals, but this may make ...

Winning a place for human rights in the new sustainable development agenda

By: Kate Donald 
Español | العربية

Though far from perfect, the new Sustainable Development Goals include important human rights commitments and do a better job than the MDGs of linking human rights ...

Extreme inequality as the antithesis of human rights

By: Philip Alston
Español

Extreme inequality directly undermines human rights, and is a cause for shame for the human rights community.

Closing the doors of justice? The South African Constitutional Court’s approach to direct access

By: Jackie Dugard
Español

Legal interventions can help improve poverty and inequality, but in South Africa the poor don’t have sufficient access to courts.

Eliminating female genital mutilation by 2030

By: Nafissatou J. Diop
Français | العربية

The UN’s proposed new development goals include a target to end harmful traditional practices like FGM by 2030. We now know the key steps needed to get there.

Where’s the evidence? Moving from ideology to data in economic and social rights

By: Octavio Luiz Motta Ferraz
Español | Português

To advance the polarized openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights, we need more empirical research, and less ideology.

Legal mobilization: a critical first step to addressing economic and social rights

By: Shareen Hertel

Legal mobilization for economic and social rights is a critical first step, not the end goal, as India's Right to Food campaign demonstrates.

Can legal interventions really tackle the root causes of poverty?

By: Sara Bailey

Legal interventions can ameliorate some of poverty’s most harmful consequences, but they cannot address poverty’s root causes. This can only be done through major ...

Open budgets, open politics?

By: Dan Berliner
Español | Français

Budget transparency has the potential to make governments more accountable, but research shows that it occurs most often where it is least needed.

Ebola, human rights, and poverty – making the links

By: Alicia Ely Yamin

The Ebola crisis shows the necessity of a human rights approach to public health that focuses on discrimination and accountability, and the crisis itself has been ...

Workers’ rights really are human rights

By: Virginia Mantouvalou

Workers’ rights are human rights, and we have a moral and legal obligation to protect them. No one should be allowed to exploit workers simply to run a more profitable ...

Development and human rights – a plea for a more critical embrace

By: V. Nagaraj
Español

The human rights framework provides an inadequate tool for understanding the deeper processes of development, and its uncritical embrace risks imposing a legal ...

Poverty and human rights: can courts, lawyers and activists make a difference?

By: Chris Jochnick
Français

We have long known that poverty is rooted in power, yet traditional power-blind approaches to poverty remain predominant. Can a human rights lens and the traditional ...

Winners and losers: how budgeting for human rights can help the poor

By: Helena Hofbauer
Español | Bahasa | Français | 简体中文

Recent research reveals the impact that international covenants could have on government taxation and expenditures. Based on civil society organization (CSO) campaigns ...

Beyond the courts – protecting economic and social rights

By: Irene Khan  & David Petrasek
Français | Español | العربية

The overlapping and interdependent nature of human rights suggests efforts to protect only some rights in law are misguided. The reason for legalizing economic ...

Transforming the development agenda requires more, not less, attention to human rights

By: Radhika Balakrishnan & Ignacio Saiz

The UN General Assembly later this month will begin negotiations over the content of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to succeed the Millennium Development ...

Yes, economic and social rights really are human rights

By: Stanley Ibe
Español

The argument that socio-economic rights are not “real” human rights is far too simplistic. While the phrase “progressive realization” gives many governments an ...

Misunderstanding our mission

By: Aryeh Neier

The founder of Human Rights Watch tells Stephen Hopgood and James Ron that this organisation is globalizing itself; though it has a long way to go, over time it ...

Human rights and social justice: the in(di)visible link

By: Ignacio Saiz & Alicia Ely Yamin

The distinction that Aryeh Neier draws between human rights and social justice is premised on a limited notion of what constitutes “power”, argue Ignacio Saiz and ...

 
 
Stay connected! Join our weekly newsletter to stay up-to-date on our newest content.  SUBSCRIBE