What are Economic and Social Rights?
Economic and Social Rights are a branch of human rights that everyone, regardless of who they are, is entitled to by virtue of being a person. They include a right to education, health (mental and physical), an adequate standard of living (right to adequate food, clothing, and housing), social security, equality, protection against discrimination, and participation in the labour force and cultural life.
Economic and social rights are considered “fundamental norms” by the United Nations (along with civil and political rights), so much so that there is a prominent human rights treaty dedicated solely to their establishment and protection. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) was revealed by the UN on December 16, 1966 and subsequently ratified by Canada on May 19, 1976 and continues to be the authority on economic and social rights in the international (and domestic) legal realm.
How do Economic and Social Rights relate to poverty?
The ICESCR does not explicitly mention a right to be free from poverty, however, it does articulate several other rights that protect against the manifestations of poverty — such as hunger, homelessness/inadequate housing, poor health, unfair wages, and social security — which highlights the direct connection between economic and social rights and poverty.
Further, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) stated that:
Although the term is not explicitly used in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, poverty is one of the recurring themes in the Covenant and has always been one of the central concerns of the Committee. The rights to work, an adequate standard of living, housing, food, health and education, which lie at the heart of the Covenant, have a direct and immediate bearing upon the eradication of poverty. Moreover, the issue of poverty frequently arises in the course of the Committee’s constructive dialogue with States parties. In the light of experience gained over many years, including the examination of numerous States parties’ reports, the Committee holds the firm view that poverty constitutes a denial of human rights.
CWP’s Economic and Social Rights Education Program
CWP has a particular interest in economic and social rights because of their close connection to human rights and poverty. As an organization, we are dedicated to the promotion of human rights, and the eradication of poverty. Education is one of the keys to achieving these goals; it is essential to educate both policymakers and the general population about these rights.
Therefore, CWP offers a variety of online resources on the subject and even launched a series of workshops and online courses about economic and social rights in the last few years. The online courses are offered bi-annually in the spring and fall of each year, beginning in 2012. They operate under a “Community of Practice” model that has participants and experts joining together in dialogue in a virtual classroom. There are different topics for discussion and resources each week, all under the umbrella of economic and social rights. The first topic is an introduction to economic and social rights, the second is an inquiry into poverty, housing and economic and social rights, followed by the right to food and women and economic and social rights. To join the wait list for the next online course offered in November 2015 email michele[at]cwp-csp.ca.
The workshops are in-person interactive seminars that range from single day-long to multiple days-long events that are scheduled by request. Copies of past workshop resources are available for Calgary 2013 and Calgary 2015. If you are interested in having CWP organize a workshop on Economic and Social Rights in your area or at your place of employment, please email ac.psc-pwc@ofni.