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Human Rights as a Tool for Sustainable Development


  • Manuel Couret Branco

    (Universidade de Evora, Departamento de Economia, CEFAGE-UE)

  • Pedro Damião Henriques

    (Universidade de Evora, Departamento de Economia, CEFAGE-UE)


In poor as much as in rich countries there is a fear that environmentally sustainable development might be contradictory to development in general and equitable development in particular. There could be indeed a contradiction between environmental and social sustainability, too much care for the environment eventually leading to forgetting about the people. The purpose of this paper is to explore institutional principles and tools that allow the conciliation between environmental and social sustainability. In this respect we will present human rights based political economy as an institutional tool of this sort. We will show how a human-rights based political economy could at the same time respect ecological sustainability and social equity. One of the reasons for that consists in the fact that within a human-rights based political economy, welfare is not the result of economic growth, as within traditional political economy, but of justice. The main objectives of development will be attained, therefore, not through growth but through redistribution of resources or of access to resources. In this paper more specific aspects will be presented by examining the human right to work and the human right to water. Regarding the human right to work the main aspect which will be stressed is that within a human rights frame full employment becomes disconnected from both growth and labour market deregulation. It will be shown that traditional policies not only do not solve unemployment but are also not environmentally and socially sustainable. The only policy that is not contradictory with either human rights and de-growth is work sharing by decreasing the length of the work day. When properly enforced this policy has, indeed, historically shown to be the only one that has created jobs. Regarding the right to water, the point is that democratic and human rights oriented exploitation and distribution policies of water are both more sustainable and more equitable than those that intend to transform water into a private good as any other and, thus, promote commodification and privatisation of resources. This way of controlling water exploitation and distribution not only may relieve pressure from the resource but also alleviate deprivation of poorer families, conciliating, therefore, environmental and social sustainability.

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  • Manuel Couret Branco & Pedro Damião Henriques, 2009. "Human Rights as a Tool for Sustainable Development," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2009_11, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
  • Handle: RePEc:cfe:wpcefa:2009_11

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Manuel Couret Branco & Pedro Damiao Henriques, 2010. "The Political Economy of the Human Right to Water," Review of Radical Political Economics, Union for Radical Political Economics, vol. 42(2), pages 142-155, June.
    2. Morris Altman, 2004. "Why Unemployment Insurance Might Not Only Be Good for the Soul, It Might Also Be Good for the Economy," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 62(4), pages 517-541.
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