On this day we celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This year we mark another milestone – the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action which, among other things, calls for an end to extreme poverty and social exclusion, and places social justice at the core of efforts to strengthen the universal commitment to human rights.
In 1919 the ILO’s Constitution affirmed that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice.” It also recognizes that poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere – in our increasingly inter-connected world, this has perhaps never resonated more.
Despite some progress, there is still much work to be done. To illustrate this: 870 million workers and their families live in poverty on the US$2 per person per day line, 400 million of those in extreme poverty; some 20.9 million people were in forced labour at any given point in time over the period between 2002 and 2011; and today there are still 168 million children in child labour, half of them in its worst forms.
At the same time, over the years, there has been growing awareness of these issues. Many countries that twenty years ago denied the existence of grave violations such as forced and child labour, are now taking concrete steps for their elimination. There is also a widespread recognition that decent work, with the rights and principles it embraces, is the sustainable route out of poverty.
The Conventions associated with fundamental principles and rights at work that guarantee the right to be free from child labour, forced labour and discrimination, and the right to freedom of association have been designated by the international community as having particular significance as human rights. In 1993, 769 ratifications of these Conventions had been registered – today there are 1,352. There is a strong commitment that must be built upon.
Through the promotion of decent work, which is recognized as a human right itself and provides a rights-based agenda for the world of work, the ILO seeks to advance the realization of social justice. Today, the opportunity to work in dignity is perhaps the most widespread demand of women and men everywhere. The creation of decent jobs remains, and will continue to remain, one of the pressing global development priorities. Addressing poverty, and the discrimination and inequality to which it is commonly linked, as acknowledged in the Vienna Declaration, is vital and urgent. It is clear that human rights principles must be woven into the fabric of a job-centred agenda for sustainable development.
On this International Human Rights Day the ILO re-affirms its commitment to protect and promote human rights at work. We give high priority to the protection of workers from forms of work that deny fundamental principles and rights at work, that puts at risk the lives, health, freedom, human dignity and security of workers or keeps households in conditions of extreme poverty. And efforts to promote decent work must reach all workers – including rural workers and workers in the informal economy.
It is fitting that on this Human Rights Day the world is commemorating Nelson Mandela’s life. Let us honour his memory and his legacy by continuing his struggle and upholding fundamental rights so that women and men everywhere may live and work in conditions of freedom, dignity, economic security and equal opportunity.
International Human Rights Day