What is the relationship between human rights and economic growth?

Economic growth alone is not enough.

Growth alone is not enough. Growth without equity, without social inclusion, will not reduce poverty. “Equity has an instrumental logic (redistribution can make growth easier and poverty reduction faster) but also has intrinsic value in a fair global society.”   Source: Simon Maxwell, “The Washington Consensus is dead!  Long live the meta-narrative!”, ODI working paper 243

Economic growth is a means, not the goal, of development. It can also be instrumental for the realization of human rights. However, economic growth must be achieved in a manner consistent with human rights principles.

Certain economic, social and cultural rights may be realized only progressively, over time, due to legitimate resource constraints (see question 3). States are under an obligation to take measures to realize these rights as expeditiously as possible. Since resources are needed to realize these particular rights, their speedy realization depends on softening the resource constraint, which in turn requires economic growth. A faster rate of growth can also help ease the pain of making unavoidable trade-offs, by increasing available resources.

It must be understood, however, that ensuring faster growth is one thing and harnessing its potential for the cause of human rights is another. For economic growth to lead to the realization of human rights, any growth strategy must be part of a comprehensive set of policies and institutions consciously designed to convert resources into rights. This comprehensive framework has both international and national dimensions, the particulars of which vary from case to case, a process guided by the conditions outlined below. A key role of United Nations agencies is to help ensure that economic growth is translated into the wider enjoyment of human rights for all.


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