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Economic and Social Rights are Human Rights

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In this latest policy paper Carole Ewart urges us to use international human rights standards to create a fairer Scotland. 


  • Human rights have not realised their potential to protect individual rights e.g. respect for family life and collective rights e.g. to belong to a trade union.
  • Successive governments, or part of them, have marginalised human rights which means that public support for human rights is worryingly low. Civil society, in particular unions, have an important role to play in reversing this view by identifying the relevance of  human rights to workers’ everyday lives and acknowledging their importance in delivering a fair Scotland and UK. For example using human rights arguments in the public procurement process.
  • The UK Government seems to be adopting an anti-human rights position in respect of trade union rights eg voting thresholds and abolishing ‘check off’.  The Scottish Government, which must to apply the HRA can be more proactive with legislation and subordinate legislation, guidance etc. to actively support human rights across devolved functions.
  • Upholding our human rights, contradicts the free market economic philosophy of the UK government.  However our Government has inherited an undertaking to the UN, that it will ‘progressively deliver’ to the ‘maximum extent of available resources’ defined economic and social rights eg the right to an adequate standard of living.  Human rights compliance should, therefore, be central to the economic strategy which businesses operate in, underpinned by a philosophy that respecting rights equates with business success.  The UN’s framework on business and human rights allows our government’s economic strategy to fit a globally recognised model.
  • For ‘rights holders’, there is a lot of catching up to do in terms of building the knowledge base and skill application. For example by changing the terminology from an “ask” to an assertion of specific rights to the duty bearer eg a local authority or health board.  And an understanding by the duty bearer that they must act and if not there is a reasonable expectation that the human right will be enforced.
  • We need to be more astute in linking human rights with policy and legislative opportunities, eg in the forthcoming social justice consultation, the Community Empowerment Act 2015[1] and its implementation.


  1. Civil society and trade unions should build the knowledge and skills of workers and empower them to assert and enforce their human rights.
  2. Consideration should be given as to what can be achieved within the devolved settlement to expand human rights to include worker’s rights as defined in the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). This could begin immediately, include new powers via the Scotland Bill and target manifestos for the Holyrood elections in May 2016.
  3. Unions should offer evidence to the UN on the application of ICESCR in the UK, during the formal Hearing process 2015 – 2016, on how workers do not equally enjoy economic and social rights which results in measurable disadvantage to them and their families.
  4. Poverty is a menace which needs to be addressed by structural reforms in our economy and there is an opportunity to deliver that change by contributing to the Scottish Government’s baseline research on ‘business and human rights’.

The full paper is available Workers Rights are Human Rights 10th Aug 2015