New Working Paper Explores Idea of Labor Rights as Human Rights

December 6, 2007

Whether or not labor rights should be designated and protected as human rights under international law is the question raised in a new Kennedy School Working Paper authored by Mathias Risse, associate professor of public policy and philosophy.

"A Right to Work? A Right to Holidays with Pay? Labor Rights as Human Rights" explores the philosophical issues raised by such considerations, and attemps to put them in perspective in respect to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations in 1948.

"This study first tries to make it plausible why labor rights would appear on the list of human rights, and next articulates some philisophical objections to their presence there," Risse writes. "What is sensible to ask then is what a conception of human rights would have to be like to count labor rights as human rights, and whether there is a conception of that sort."

Risse continues, "I offer one conception that I take to be plausible overall, and that does count labor rights as human rights. Or, that is: it does count a right to work as a human right, alas not in the strong interpretation according to which states must create jobs but in the weaker sense that states need to make sure people are not systematically excluded from employment, and are treated in certain ways at their place of work, and it does count a right to leisure as a human right, alas not a right to paid vacations."

Risse is associate professor of public policy and philosophy at the Kennedy School. His articles have appeared in journals such as Ethics; Philosophy and Public Affairs; Nous; Journal of Political Philosophy; and Social Choice and Welfare. Risse's primary research area is global justice, and he is currently writing a book tentatively called "The Grounds of Justice: An Essay on Global Political Philosophy."

Read the Working Paper, titled "A Right to Work? A Right to Holidays with Pay? Labor Rights as Human Rights" on the website: http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP07-058

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