HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy


Labor rights are the first to come up for criticism when accounts of human rights are offered in response to philosophical questions about them, and notoriously so Article 24, which talks about “rest and leisure” and “period holidays with pay.” This study first tries to make it plausible why labor rights would appear on the Universal Declaration, and next articulates some philosophical objections to their presence there. The interesting question then is not so much how one could respond to the objections, but to explore what commitments one needs to make to answer our question in a satisfactory manner. To make progress, we can contrast the idea of human rights with conceptions of them. Such conceptions offer answers to a set of philosophical questions about human rights. It would be rather unlikely for any such conception to emerge as the uniquely best philosophical account of human rights since disagreements among different conceptions (each of which requires commitments to a range of issues) are complex. 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. 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.

[This paper was revised in February 2008]


Risse, Mathias. "A Right to Work? A Right to Holidays with Pay? Labor Rights as Human Rights." KSG Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP07-058, December 2007.