Allying human rights with other struggles for economic and social justice
International convening hosted by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)
Lima, 29 – 31 August 2018
As the human rights movement marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the principle challenges it faces is in bringing human rights to bear on issues of economic injustice and inequality. While great strides have been made over the last 25 years in the legal recognition and judicial enforcement of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, human rights have yet to make a significant impact in tackling the structural injustices and policy failures which drive chronic ESC rights abuses and inequalities.
Over the same period in which the human rights movement has been successful in strengthening the normative and institutional protection of ESC rights, free-market fundamentalism and fiscal austerity have become entrenched, fuelling an escalation in economic inequality to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Lofty new global commitments on sustainable development have as yet failed to shift the paradigms, policies and practices driving poverty and inequality. The rise of authoritarian populism at the service of economic elites has driven progressive discourses and programs into retreat, while the resurgence of economic nationalism threatens to reverse fragile gains in multilateral cooperation on issues such as development, trade, tax and climate change.
CESR believes that counteracting these challenges requires reconnecting with the egalitarian and redistributive vision which underpins the UDHR. This in turn calls for much deeper engagement with actors beyond the human rights movement who are engaging more frontally with the unequal distribution of power and resources that is at the root of ESC deprivations, and who are advancing alternative and transformative economic, social and development models.
In recent years, ESC rights organizations including CESR have sought to strengthen collaboration with actors in other fields who are working for economic and social justice using frameworks, discourses and methods different from those of the human rights movement – yet potentially convergent with them. These sectors include heterodox economists, development and tax justice advocates, trade unionists, environmental, land rights and climate justice activists, and social movements working for gender, racial and other dimensions of equality.
Such collaborations have helped take human rights arguments and strategies into new arenas, from community development councils to the halls of the IMF, boosting the reach and effectiveness of socioeconomic rights advocacy. And they have also supported struggles for tax, environmental and development justice by informing new understandings of what such justice looks like, leveraging the human rights framework as a vehicle for challenging unjust policies and practices, and holding those responsible to account.
Beyond Boundaries: objectives, outcomes and methodology
These growing synergies between kindred movements pursuing common goals are among the most promising developments in the field of ESC rights. Yet there has rarely been space to reflect on the challenges faced in working across disciplines and fields of advocacy, the conditions that make such collaboration effective, how it can be fostered and how mutual learning about substance and strategy can be improved.
Beyond Boundaries will bring together representatives from these different fields, as well as members of the human rights community who have been working beyond the boundaries of the human rights ecosystem, to explore how inter-disciplinary collaboration can enrich strategies and methodologies for advancing human rights accountability in the socioeconomic sphere. The objective is to identify concrete opportunities and strategies for fostering more dynamic engagement between the human rights movement and actors working for economic and social justice in the pursuit of common or convergent goals.
The meeting will explore specific examples of cross-sectoral collaboration in three broad areas:
• Climate and environmental justice: including how human rights can be more effectively deployed in struggles over access to land, food and natural resources, and in efforts to combat climate change
• Fiscal and economic justice: including emerging alliances between human rights and tax/budget justice activists addressing the unjust distribution of resources, and connections to trade union movements defending workers' rights as labor’s share of income declines worldwide
• Development alternatives: including the human rights community’s relationships with actors advancing new economic and sustainable development paradigms, and proposing transformative social protection models
Beyond Boundaries will reflect on specific examples of inter-disciplinary collaboration from each of these areas, so as to analyze factors conducive to the success of such initiatives, the challenges faced and lessons learned. It will take place over two and a half days, and the agenda will be structured in a highly interactive way, with input from participants, and with a mix of round-table and lab-style group sessions.
The immediate outcome will be a set of recommendations for actors within and beyond the human rights community on how to strengthen collaborative advocacy for economic and social rights in ways that respond to the challenges identified. Ultimately, CESR hopes that the meeting will lay foundations for broader-based collective action that can more effectively constrain the processes driving socioeconomic inequality and impoverishment, and counter the growing politics of exclusion, polarization and fear that these have generated.
The Center for Economic and Social Rights is an international NGO based in New York and Lima which has been working since its inception in 1993 for the recognition and protection of economic and social rights. Beyond Boundaries is being organized with the support of the Open Society Foundations.