Social protection for sustainable development: A human rights-based approach

Social protection consists of policies and programmes designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability by promoting efficient labour markets, reducing people's exposure to risks, and enhancing their capacity to manage economic and social risks, such as unemployment, exclusion, sickness, disability and old age (World Bank, 2001).

The United Nations 2030 Agenda recognises social protection systems as a key enabler of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (United Nations, 2015). Several SDGs and targets refer to social protection as a vital condition for their successful implementation. Each SDG and target corresponds with either one or more provisions of international human rights treaties.

In this context, this blog highlights the importance of harnessing the SDGs-human rights anchorage as a roadmap to implement social protection policies and practices towards realising the 2030 Agenda.

The status of social protection in international human rights treaties

Social protection is a human right that is enshrined in the following international human rights treaties:

(a) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – UDHR

The right to social security is recognised in Article 22 (United Nations, 1948).

(b) The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - ICESCR

According to Article 9, State parties to the ICESCR have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to social security (United Nations, 1966).  

Article 10.2: "Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth. During such period working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits".

(c) The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – ICERD recognises the right to social security in Article 5 (United Nations, 1965).

(d) The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women -CEDAW enshrines the right to social security for women in Article 11(United Nations, 1979).

(e) The Convention on the Rights of the Child – CRC enshrines the right of children to social security in article 26. The CRC further elaborates on the right of children to social security in Article 18.2 in relation to working parents. Article 20 makes provisions for the right to social security of children without parents (United Nations, 1989).

(f) The Declaration of Philadelphia (1944), which is an integral part of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Constitution, recognises that the extension of social protection worldwide is one of the Organisations' main objectives (ILO, 1944).

Social protection as a universal means of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The United Nations 2030 Agenda recognises social protection systems as a key enabler of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and states that “All people must enjoy a basic standard of living, including through social protection systems” (United Nations, 2015).  

This recognition is affirmed by the inclusion of the following Goals and targets in the 2030 Agenda:

Goal 1 (End poverty in all its forms everywhere), target 3

Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages), target 8

Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls), target 4

Goal 10 (Reduce inequality within and among countries), target 4

The 2030 Agenda further states that the Agenda itself and the Sustainable Development Goals and targets, including the means of implementation, are universal, indivisible and interlinked (United Nations, 2015). In this context, the expected role of social protection invariably appears to be a ‘universal means’ of implementing the SDGs.

The unifying thread that runs throughout the 17 SDGs and their 169 targets is a commitment to ending poverty. As noted in the 2030 Agenda’s preamble “Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development” (United Nations, 2015). Therefore, the universal role of social protection policies and practices in implementing the SDGs can be regarded as designed to meet this greatest global challenge of eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty.

Implementing social protection in the post-2015 development agenda

Both human rights and social protection have emerged as key elements in discussions on poverty reduction and in the post-2015 development agenda. The ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012 calls for reducing the gaps at national, regional and global levels through nationally defined social protection floors that are based on a set of human rights standards (ILO, 2012). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development along with this ILO recommendation, provides a foundation for policy makers, development practitioners and human rights advocates to initiate a global dialogue on implementing social protection, human rights and sustainability in a mutually reinforcing way.

The UN Statement of Common Understanding on Human Rights-Based Approaches to Development Cooperation and Programming was adopted by the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) in 2003.  The purpose behind developing a common understanding was to ensure that UN agencies, funds and programmes apply a consistent human rights-based approach (HRBA) to common programming processes at global, regional and country levels (HRBA Portal, 2008a).

An HRBA is a conceptual framework that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights. Under an HRBA, plans, policies and programmes are anchored in a system of rights and corresponding obligations established by international law (HRBA Portal, 2008b). In practical terms, an HRBA helps to promote sustainability by empowering people (rights holders), especially the poor and vulnerable groups, to participate in policy formulation and hold accountable those who have a duty to act (duty bearers).

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties. Each SDG and target corresponds with either one or more provisions of international human rights treaties as elaborated in the Human Rights Guide to the Sustainable Development Goals (The Danish Institute for Human Rights, 2016). Human rights anchorage of SDGs enables policy makers and development practitioners to adopt a rights-based approach to help realise the SDGs. Further, such an SDG-human rights relationship justifies the adoption of a rights-based approach in giving effect to the 2030 Agenda.

Conclusion

Human rights and social protection have emerged as two key elements in the post-2015 development agenda. The 2030 Agenda is grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties. Social protection is a human right enshrined in the UDHR and several other international human rights treaties. Each SDG and target corresponds with either one or more provisions of international human rights treaties.

This SDGs - human rights anchorage enables and justifies the adoption of a rights-based approach to implement social protection policies and programmes towards advancing the achievement of the SDGs. In this context, a global discussion on the mutually reinforcing roles of human rights, social protection and SDGs would be a timely step in the direction of realising the 2030 Agenda.

References:

International Labour Organisation, ILO (1944). Declaration of Philadelphia, 1944, Accessible: http://blue.lim.ilo.org/cariblex/pdfs/ILO_dec_philadelphia.pdf [accessed on 10 October 2017]

International Labour Organisation, ILO (2012). Social Protection Floors Recommendation # 202, 2012, Accessible: http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:R202  [accessed on 10 October 2017]

The Danish Institute for Human Rights (2016). The Human Rights Guide to the Sustainable Development Goals, Accessible: http://sdg.humanrights.dk/en [accessed on 09 October, 2017]

United Nations (2015). General Assembly, Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 21 October 2015, A/RES/70/1. Accessible: http://www.refworld.org/docid/57b6e3e44.html [accessed on 10 October 2017]

United Nations (1948). General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948, 217 A (III). Accessible: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3712c.html [accessed on 10 October 2017]

United Nations (1966). General Assembly, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 993, p. 3, Accessible: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b36c0.html [accessed on 10 October 2017]

United Nations (1965). General Assembly, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 21 December 1965, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 660, p. 195, Accessible: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3940.html [accessed on 10 October 2017]

United Nations (1979). General Assembly, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 18 December 1979, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1249, p. 13, Accessible: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3970.html [accessed on 10 October 2017]

United Nations (1989). General Assembly, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, p. 3, Accessible: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b38f0.html [accessed on 10 October 2017]

United Nations, HRBA Portal (2008a). The Human Rights Based Approach to Development Cooperation: Towards a Common Understanding Among UN Agencies, Accessible: http://hrbaportal.org/the-human-rights-based-approach-to-development-cooperation-towards-a-common-understanding-among-un-agencies /. [accessed on 05 September 2017]

United Nations, HRBA Portal (2008b). What is a human rights-based approach? Accessible: http://hrbaportal.org/faq/what-is-a-human-rights-based-approach [accessed on 05 September 2017]

World Bank (2001). Social Protection Sector Strategy Paper: From Safety Net to Springboard. Washington DC, USA.

Photo credit: Rrinsindika (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • General
Social Protection Topics: 
  • Legislation
  • Universal Social Protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Human rights
  • MDGs/SDGs
Countries: 
  • Global
Regions: 
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's