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Economic And Social Rights

Economic and Social Rights (ESRs) address survival and development.  They govern how people are able to live and work together in dignity and with opportunity, and deal with their right to basic necessities as a source for achieving freedom, justice, and peace.

ESRs are a broad category of human rights guaranteed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC) of 1966 and other legally binding regional human and international rights treaties.

States, such as Jamaica, that are parties to the Covenant are obligated through their governments to work toward respecting (not violating these rights), protecting (ensuring that other people or bodies do not abuse these rights), and fulfilling (making these rights a reality) economic, social, and cultural rights of its citizens.

International law allows for the fact that making economic, social, and cultural rights, this does not mean they can do nothing – they have to take steps towards fulfilling them.  As an initial step, they must prioritise “minimum core obligations” – minimum essential levels of each of the rights.  Under the right to education for example, core obligations include the right to free primary education.

Governments must not discriminate in their laws, policies or practices and must prioritise the most vulnerable when allocating resources.

The ICESC is monitored by the United Nations (UN) Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  All States Parties are required to submit regular reports to the Committee outlining the legislative, judicial, policy and other measures they have taken to implement the rights affirmed in the Covenant.

Key Definitions

Social Rights – Deals with your entitlement to an agreed upon living standard.  This includes, among other things, your right to prescribed qualities in: employment, education, health care, social security, housing, food, water, clothing and safe environmental conditions.

Economic Rights Deals with your entitlement to access resources such as land, labour, and money, which are important factors in producing goods and services for sale.

Social Justice – Is a situation in which people receive fair treatment, a just share of and access to all the social benefits/resources within a country.

Economic Justice – Describes a situation in which socio-economic institutions are designed to enable people to earn a living, enter into contracts

Some ESRs To Which You Are Entitled

Adequate Living Standard

Everyone is entitled to Adequate Living Standard, including

  • Adequate food

  • Adequate medical care

  • Access to water

  • Adequate housing

  • Adequate clothing

  • Continuous improvement of living conditions

  • Access to necessary social services

  • Access to social security for unemployment, sickness, widowhood, disability, and old age

Adequate Food

No one should be hungry. The government has a responsibility to:

  • To improve ways of producing, conserving, and distributing food.

  • To make note of the problems of food importing and exporting countries.

Adequate Healthcare

Everyone is entitled to the highest level of physical and mental health. The government has a responsbility to:

  • To provide for healthy development of children.

  • To reduce infant mortality rate.

  • To reduce still-birth rate.

  • To improve environmental and industrial hygiene.

  • To prevent, treat, and control diseases.

  • To provide access to medical service and attention when sick.

Social Security

Everyone has the right to social security and insurance. The government has a responsbility to:

  • To provide protection and assistance to the family, especially while caring for and educating dependent children.

  • Special protection and adequate social security to mothers before and after childbirth.

  • Special measures to protect and assist children and young people.

  • Punishment for persons who employ children in harmful work.

  • Set age limits for employment


Everyone has the right to education. 

  • Education should develop human personality and dignity.

  • Education should improve respect for human rights and freedoms.

  • Education should prepare people to effectively participate in a free society.

  • Education should prepare people to understand, tolerate, be friendly with people of other religious groups, nations, and races.

  • Education should promote peace.

The government has a responsibbility to:

  • To make primary education free and mandatory.

  • To make secondary education (different types) available and accessible.

  • To make college education equally accessible, on the basis of ability.

  • To encourage and increase fundamental education.

  • To develop a school system at all levels.

  • To maintain and improve school facilities  and teaching  aides.

  • To respect parents and guardians right to choose schools which uphold their religions and moral principles.


Everyone has the right to earn his living by work

  • Everyone should enjoy just and favourable working conditions.

  • Wages should be fair and there should be equality of payment.

  • Wages should provide decent living conditions.

  • Working conditions should be safe and healthy.

  • Equal opportunity for promotion on the basis of competence and seniority.

  • Limited working hours, occasional and public holidays with pay, rest and leisure.

The government has a responsibility to:

  • provide technical and vocational guidance and training programmes and to develop policies and techniques to achieve economic, social and cultural development and full production development.

See the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) for more details 

Contact Us

2 Fagan Avenue, Grant’s Pen
Kingston, Jamaica
Tel: +1(876) 615-5024 / +1(876) 615-5023
Email: [email protected]
For legal support: [email protected]

Founded in 1999, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is a non-government human rights and social justice organisation. JFJ serves hundreds of Jamaicans each year by providing legal services in response to human rights violations, working on legislation and policy, campaigning for social justice causes, and conducting high-impact research that shape the national human rights agenda.

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