> Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) rights were established at international level by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human rights. In 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted two covenants related to Human Rights: the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR), which both came into force in 1976.
Those covenants thus created a distinction between:
- Civil and Political (CP) rights (right to life, rights to liberty and security, right to the freedom of expression, right to freedom of association with others, etc. )
- Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) rights
Economic, Social and Cultural rights are:
- workers’rights, including freedom from forced labour, the rights to
decide freely to accept or choose work, to fair wages and equal pay
for equal work, to leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours,
to safe and healthy working conditions, to join and form trade unions,
and to strike;
- The right to social security and social protection, including the right
not to be denied social security coverage arbitrarily or unreasonably,
and the right to equal enjoyment of adequate protection in the event
of unemployment, sickness, old age or other lack of livelihood in
circumstances beyond one’s control;
- Protection of and assistance to the family, including the rights to
marriage by free consent, to maternity and paternity protection, and to
protection of children from economic and social exploitation;
- The right to an adequate standard of living, including the rights
to food and to be free from hunger, to adequate housing, to water
- The right to health, including the right to access health facilities,
goods and services, to healthy occupational and environmental
conditions, and protection against epidemic diseases, and rights
related to sexual and reproductive health;
- The right to education, including the right to free and compulsory
primary education and to available and accessible secondary and higher
education, progressively made free of charge; and the liberty for parents
to choose schools for their children;
- Cultural rights, including the right to participate in cultural life and
to share and benefit from scientific advancement, and protection of
authors’ moral and material interests from scientific, literary or artistic
It is important to understand that Economic, Social and Cultural rights are indivisible from - and inter-dependent with - Civil and Political rights. It will soon become impossible to implement CP rights if we keep ignoring ESC rights: hungry people with no education or in poor health, for instance, will never be able to use their voting right in full knowledge of the facts or puclicly voice their opinion in the media (right to the freedom of expression). In other words, the democracy that our societies very much value will never fully prevail if we keep neglecting ESC rights.
"All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms".
World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna, 14-25 June 1993
For further information:
- "Frequently asked questions on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights", Fact Sheet n°33, Office of the United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights.
- Frequently asked questions on ESC rights, OHCHR
- "The right to work", Part of a series of the Human Rights Programme of the CETIM, 2008.
- The right to work, CETIN, 2008
- "The right to housing", Part of a series of the Human Rights Programme of the CETIM, 2007.
- The right to housing, CETIM, 2007
- "The right to health", Part of a series of the Human Rights Programme of the CETIM, 2006.
- The right to health, CETIM, 2006
- "The right to food", Part of a series of the Human Rights Programme of the CETIM, 2005.
- The right to food, CETIM 2005