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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Türk issues call to build economies that advance human rights for all

20 April 2023

Volunteers give out rescued produce collected by Fridge Restock Community to residents in the neighbourhood, in Singapore March 29, 2023. REUTERS/Caroline Chia More than 800,000 tonnes of food waste was generated in Singapore in 2021, an amount that has increased 20 percent over the decade and now accounts for 12 percent of all waste generated in Singapore, according to the Singapore National Environment Agency. Credit: REUTERS

NEW YORK (20 April 2023) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk today launched a call for a “human rights economy”, warning that currently, economic systems are largely failing to address the basic needs of millions of people and failing to act sustainably.

“Too many people around the world cannot afford basic goods. They lack access to public services and are trapped in abject poverty, made worse in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis,” he said. “Add to this entrenched discrimination and structural inequality in our political, financial and economic systems, and the scourges of corruption, illicit financial flows and tax evasion.”

“The impact? Preventable death; preventable misery; preventable under-development; and preventable grievances, violence and conflict.”

Türk called for fresh thinking, political leadership, renewed commitments, and scaled-up financing to ensure a human rights economy that benefits everyone, during this 75th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Human rights must be central to economic decision-making which requires designing and assessing policies based on their impacts on people and their rights,” he said.

“Instead of presuming that profit-motivated decisions will deliver for the public good, a human rights economy is based on inclusive participation and social dialogue. Such an economy invests maximum available resources in advancing human rights, notably social protections, universal education and healthcare, food, housing, as well as delivering an adequate standard of living to all.”

The High Commissioner stressed the need to promote budgets, taxation, trade policies, consumption and production patterns, investment decisions and business models that fully take on every country's human rights obligations, including the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Globally, Türk added that human rights-based economic policy must include putting in place human rights guardrails for international financial and development institutions, so that governments are not forced to undercut investments in rights to repay their foreign debt.

To read the High Commissioner’s speech on the human rights economy to the New School in New York today, please visit: