In recent years, international advocacy has contributed to increased awareness of forced sterilization as a human rights violation, including as a result of our work at the International Justice Resource Center (IJRC). Around the world, healthcare providers and others continue to sterilize people without their informed consent, most often targeting those who are Indigenous, living with HIV, are persons with disabilities, or who experience discrimination on other grounds. Just this month, IJRC advanced our partners’ advocacy on this issue at the 63rd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and Human Rights Watch published a report on involuntary sterilization of transgender persons in Japan. The past three years have also seen judgments from regional human rights courts on forced sterilization and important statements from other bodies. This post details the results of advocacy before regional and United Nations human rights bodies, summarizing the growing body of recommendations, statements, and judgments that more fully define forced sterilization as a human rights violation and guide governments in addressing this harmful practice.
On February 27, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held by a vote of seven to one that international organizations do not have absolute immunity from suit in U.S. courts. See Jam v. International Finance Corp., No. 17-1011, slip op. at 2 (U.S. Feb. 27, 2019). Rejecting the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) argument that international organizations like the IFC maintain absolute immunity from suit in U.S. courts, the Court allowed a case alleging injuries from environmental pollution caused by a power plant that was funded and supervised by the IFC to proceed in a U.S. federal court. See id. at 1-2, 5-6. The Supreme Court held that international organizations are not immune from all suits, such as when those organizations are engaged in commercial activity. See id. at 4, 15. The Supreme Court’s decision now allows the case against the IFC to move forward in U.S. Federal Court in Washington D.C. Although the Supreme Court’s decision did not make a determination on the merits of the case, the Court’s holding opens the door in U.S. courts for other potential suits alleging wrongdoing committed by other international organizations. [Earthrights]
In an advisory opinion issued on February 25, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded that the United Kingdom violated core principles of international law by separating the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in the 1960s and continuing to administer the islands as a British territory. See Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, Advisory Opinion, ICJ Reports 2019, para. 183. Despite the U.K’s numerous attempts to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction over the matter, the Court ultimately determined that it was competent to address the questions presented and issued its answer. See id. In its opinion, the Court made clear that the U.K’s actions with respect to this former colony run counter to what are now well-established rights of peoples to self-determination. See id. at paras. 177-178. The UN General Assembly is expected to discuss implementation of the advisory opinion, including returning the islands to Mauritius and resolving the status of the thousands of people the U.K. forcibly expelled from Chagos following its agreement with the United States to allow an American military base, and later secret CIA detention site, on the island of Diego Garcia. [Guardian; Nation]
In March, various universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies and two pre-sessional working groups will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding economic, social, and cultural rights; women’s rights; civil and political rights; and the rights of persons with disabilities. The Human Rights Council will continue holding one of its three regular sessions. Two UN special rapporteurs will conduct country visits in March, and the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent will be in session. Of the regional bodies, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), and the European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR) will be holding public sessions.
The UN treaty body sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the AfCHPR and IACtHR may be viewed via the AfCHPR’s YouTube page and IACtHR’s Vimeo page, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
In a new declaration on the impact of the use of algorithms on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers warns that artificial intelligence and other machine-learning technologies must not be used to unduly influence or manipulate individuals’ thoughts and behavior. See Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, Decl(13/02/2019)1, 13 February 2019. The first of its kind, the declaration calls on States to take steps to ensure that technologies facilitating algorithmic persuasion, particularly those that “micro-target” individuals, do not interfere with people’s ability to enjoy their human rights and to make independent political, personal, and purchasing decisions. See id. at paras. 8, 9. The Declaration, which builds on ongoing study and analysis by Council of Europe organs, adds to the growing body of guidance and recommendations concerning the regulation of machine learning to safeguard human rights, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression.
At the heart of the Declaration is the concern that technology that seeks to shape our preferences and alter information flows is becoming an “ever growing presence in our daily lives,” and the finding that digital forms of targeted persuasion pose a threat to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. See Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, at paras. 4, 9. Specifically, the Committee of Ministers states that the use of “fine grained, sub-conscious and personalized levels of algorithmic persuasion” risks significantly interfering with the principles of individual autonomy and the right to form opinions and take independent decisions. See id. at para. 9. Undermining the autonomy and independence of individuals, according to the Committee, threatens the fundamental belief “in the equality and dignity of all humans as independent moral agents.” See id. at paras. 9.
The Committee of Ministers recognizes that digital services have become an essential tool for modern communication, including political communication, and that advanced technologies provide the opportunity to enhance human rights. See id. at paras. 2-3. However, the Committee also notes that public awareness “remains limited regarding the extent to which everyday devices collect and generate vast amounts of data” that “are used to train machine-learning technologies. . . to predict and shape personal preferences, to alter information flows, and, sometimes, to subject individuals to behavioral experimentation.” See id. at para. 4. Additionally, the Committee warns that the ability to infer “intimate and detailed information” from the data collected “supports the sorting of individuals into categories,” which allows companies to reinforce discrimination along cultural, religious, legal, and economic lines. See id. at para. 6.
The Committee of Ministers concludes that machine-learning technologies, when coupled with mass collection of data, pose a danger for democratic societies if these technologies are used—by either public or private entities—to “manipulate and control not only economic choices but also social and political behaviours.” See id. at para. 8. Moreover, the Committee notes that machine-learning tools are demonstrating an increasing ability to “not only to predict choices but also influence emotions and thoughts and alter an anticipated course of action, sometimes subliminally.” See id. at para. 8. The Committee emphasizes that the 47 Member States to the Council of Europe have an obligation to protect democracy, human rights, and the rule of law during the rapid social transformation that is occurring as the result of recent advances in technology. See id. at para. 1.
The Declaration makes five specific recommendations about how States should address the risks to democracy and human rights posed by machine learning. The first is that States should pay attention to the inter-disciplinary nature of this concern and ensure that the above concerns do not fall between the mandates of current administrative agencies. See id. at para. 9(a). Second, States should consider enacting laws that regulate the collection and use of personal data that go beyond preexisting privacy protections. See id. at para. 9(b). In addition, States should specifically legislate against forms of “illegitimate interference,” which would include forms of persuasion and interference that compromise democratic principles. See id. at para. 9(d). Lastly, the Committee asserts that States should both promote a public debate on the issue of what counts as permissible persuasion and empower users of digital technologies by promoting digital literacy, including awareness of data collection. See id. at para. 9(c) and 9(e).
Recent Developments under Human Rights Law Concerning AI
International human rights experts and civil society have sought to address the human rights impact of machine-learning and algorithmic decision-making. [OHCHR; UNDP; AccessNow; Data&Society] Most recently, in a 2018 report to the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression released the first such report examining the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic decision-making on the information environment; a response to these technologies “are now a critical part of the information environment – they are found in every corner of the internet, on digital devices and in technical systems, in search engines, social media platforms, messaging applications, and public information mechanisms.” [OHCHR]
Importantly, the Special Rapporteur’s report proposes a human rights framework for the design and use of these technologies by States and private actors. [OHCHR] Drawing primarily on the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, privacy, non-discrimination, and an effective remedy, the Special Rapporteur finds that States should ensure that human rights are at the core of private sector design of these technologies. See id. at paras. 60-63. This requires that States update and enforce data protection regulations with respect to machine-learning technologies. See id. at para. 63. Moreover, States should enact policies that create a diverse and pluralistic information environment, which may include the regulation of technology monopolies in the area of artificial intelligence. See id. at para. 64.
With respect to the responsibility of private companies, the Special Rapporteur found that companies should create and apply guidelines for the deployment of artificial intelligence that are grounded in human rights principles and informed by civil society. See id. at para. 65. Additionally, companies should be transparent and open for audit concerning the use of artificial intelligence on their platforms and services. See id. at paras. 66, 69. Companies should also prevent discrimination by the teams designing their artificial intelligence systems and discrimination in the actual system design, which may include monitoring outcomes that may be discriminatory, removing discriminatory data, and implementing measures that compensate for discriminatory data. See id. at para. 67.
The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, is an intergovernmental organization with 47 Member States. The Committee of Ministers, a decision-making body charged with monitoring the implementation of several human rights treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights, is composed of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Member States. Additionally, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Committee of Social Rights, and the Commissioner for Human Rights all operate under the auspices of the Council of Europe.
For more information about the European Human Rights System or the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room or subscribe to the IJRC Daily.
In two recently released decisions, United Nations Human Rights Committee determined that the Finnish government interfered with Sámi individuals’ rights to political participation and culture when a national court expanded the group of people authorized to vote, or run as candidates, in the Indigenous group’s parliamentary elections. [OHCHR Press Release: Finland] While the Committee and other UN human rights bodies have raised concerns about this issue before, these are the first complaints to be decided concerning the Sámi people’s self-determination. The Committee has given Finland six months to submit a report outlining the progress it has made in implementing the decisions. [OHCHR Press Release: Finland] One other communication on the same matter is pending before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). See Human Rights Committee, Sanila-Aikio v. Finland, Views of 1 November 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/124/D/2668/2015, para. 4.2.
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued its second ever monetary judgment in an inter-State case, ordering Russia to pay the Georgian government 10 million euros as reparations for Russia’s collective expulsion of thousands of Georgian nationals between 2006 and 2007. See ECtHR, Georgia v. Russia (I) [GC], no. 13255/07, ECHR 2019, Judgment of 31 January 2019 (Just Satisfaction). The judgment on reparations follows the Court’s 2014 judgment on the merits of the case, in which it found that Russia’s mass expulsion of Georgians violated the European Convention on Human Rights. See id. at para. 2. If Russia complies with the judgment, Georgia will be responsible for distributing the 10 million euros to a group of 1,500 identified victims, awarding 2,000 euros to each person who was expelled and awarding an additional 10,000 to 15,000 euros to those who had also been detained and ill-treated. See id. at paras. 77, 79. This judgment applies and builds on the Grand Chamber’s 2014 just satisfaction judgment in Cyprus v. Turkey, in which it ordered Turkey to pay 90 million euros in just satisfaction for the enforced disappearance of 1,456 people and various violations against the Greek Cypriots of the Karpas peninsula, by Turkish authorities, dating to 1974. See ECtHR, Cyprus v. Turkey, [GC], no. 25781/94, Judgment of 12 May 2014 (Just Satisfaction).
This case is the first of four cases that Georgia has brought to the ECtHR against Russia since 2007. The second case, concerning Russia’s alleged violation of the European Convention during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict, is currently pending before a Grand Chamber. See ECtHR, Cases pending before the Grand Chamber. The third case, which concerned Russia’s detention of several Georgian nationals, was voluntarily dropped by Georgia after Russia released the individuals from detention. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The fourth case, filed in August 2018, concerns alleged violations of rights along the border between Georgian-controlled territory and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [ECtHR: New Complaint] The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict. See ICC, Situation in Georgia.
A number of African countries have drawn international criticism amid a wave of internet shutdowns aimed at restricting access to information and discourse on social, economic, and political issues. Between December 2018 and January 2019, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, and Zimbabwe cut off access to the internet in response to protests. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns] Human rights groups and experts have condemned these moves as illegal acts of repression, citing violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns; OHCHR Press Release; Access Now Press Release] While the internet shutdowns in Africa contribute to a trend of increasing shutdowns around the world, the international response demonstrates that internet access is now recognized as essential to the exercise of human rights.
In February, various universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will review States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies and one pre-sessional working group will hold sessions to assess States’ progress regarding children’s rights; the prevention of torture; economic, social and cultural rights; and the rights of women. The Human Rights Council will be holding one of its three regular sessions and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. One UN special rapporteur and one UN working group will conduct country visits in February, and three UN working groups will hold sessions. Of the regional bodies, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will be holding public sessions.
The UN treaty body and UPR sessions may be watched via UN Web TV. The public hearings of the IACtHR, the IACHR, and the European Court may be viewed via the IACtHR’s Vimeo page, the IACHR’s website, and the European Court’s website, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies
Three of the 10 UN human rights treaty bodies will meet this month to review certain States parties’ implementation of their treaty obligations. They are the Committee on the Rights of the Child; the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Through the State reporting procedure, treaty bodies review States’ reports and responses to a specific list of issues, receive additional information from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions (NHRIs), engage in an interactive dialogue with each State’s representatives, and then adopt concluding observations detailing the progress and remaining challenges in the State’s implementation of the treaty. Through a simplified reporting procedure, treaty bodies may invite States to respond only to questions (list of issues) prepared by the treaty body, rather than submitting a comprehensive report and also responses to a subsequent list of issues. Additionally, the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture will meet privately to advance its work.
Committee on the Rights of the Child
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) will continue with its 80th Session in Geneva, Switzerland which opened on January 14 and is set to end on February 1, 2019. According to its programme of work, the CRC will consider the State reports of Bahrain, Belgium, Guinea, Italy, Japan, and Syria to assess their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CRC will also consider the State report of the Czech Republic for its compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC-OP-SC).
Civil society members wishing to attend the CRC’s session must register through the Indico system before February 1, 2019. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CRC’s 80th Session webpage. For more information on the CRC, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.
Following the CRC’s 80th Session, the CRC Pre-Sessional Working Group will hold its 82nd Session in Geneva, Switzerland from February 4 to February 8, 2019. The Working group will begin its review of the State reports of Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mozambique, Portugal, Korea, and Luxembourg to assess their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and will hold private briefings on those countries. The Working Group will also begin its review of Georgia’s State report to assess its implementation of the CRC-OP-SC, and its review of Georgia’s and Panama’s State reports to assess their compliance with the Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture
The Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) will hold its 37th Session from February 18 to February 22, 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland, according to the calendar of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The SPT session information is confidential, but the SPT publishes annual reports on its activities. Its sessions generally provide its 25 members—an independent group of experts—a chance to report on and discuss upcoming and recent activities related to specific States, regions, and thematic priorities. For more information on the SPT, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) will hold its 65th Session from February 18 to March 8, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. According to its provisional programme of work, the CESCR will hold interactive dialogues with Bulgaria, Cameroon, Estonia, Kazakhstan, and Mauritius with respect to their compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights. During the remainder of the session, the Committee will hold closed discussions.
Civil society members looking to attend the CESCR’s session must register through the Indico system before February 11, 2019. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society’s alternative reports, visit the CESCR’s 65th Session webpage. For more information on the CESCR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) will hold its 72nd Session from February 18 to March 1, 2019 in Geneva Switzerland. According to its proposed programme of work, the CEDAW Committee will engage in interactive dialogues with Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Botswana, Colombia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Serbia, and the United Kingdom to assess their compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Civil society members looking to attend the CEDAW Committee’s session must register through the Indico system before March 8, 2019. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CEDAW Committee’s 72nd Session webpage. For more information on the CEDAW Committee, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.
Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental deliberative body, will hold its 40th Session from February 25 to March 22, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. According to the session agenda, the Human Rights Council will review reports from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Secretary General, outcome reports from the Universal Periodic Review Working Group on specific States, and reports from UN special procedures mandate holders. The list of reports is available on the session’s webpage.
The Human Rights Council will select four individuals from a proposed list of candidates to serve as members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Human Rights Council will also convene several panel discussions on topics including human rights and multilateralism, the rights of persons and children with disabilities, human rights violations related to the implementation of the death penalty, and efforts to counter the rise of nationalist populism and supremacist ideologies.
NGOs in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) can be accredited to participate in the Human Rights Council’s sessions as observers, as described on the Council’s webpage on NGO participation. Relevant documents and further information regarding the issues that will be covered at the session, including the reports considered during the session, submissions from civil society, and the Council’s agenda, is available on the Human Rights Council’s 40th Session webpage. For more information about the Human Rights Council, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.
Universal Periodic Review Working Group
The Human Rights Council’s UPR Working Group will proceed with its 32nd Session which began on January 21 and will last through February 1, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. According to its tentative timetable, the Working Group is holding interactive dialogues with New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Vietnam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, and Cambodia regarding their obligations under the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights instruments to which the State is party, the State’s voluntary pledges and commitments, and applicable international humanitarian law.
During the session, a group of three Human Rights Council Member States (or troika) will facilitate the review of each country. Representatives from the country being reviewed will give an oral presentation, which is followed by an interactive dialogue with the UN Member States. The States make recommendations and comments, which the troika summarizes in a report, and the reviewed country can accept or reject the recommendations and comments. A final outcome report will then be adopted, and the country will report on its implementation of the recommendations during the following UPR cycle.
Various independent human rights experts and monitoring bodies, known as UN “special procedures” have country visits or sessions scheduled for February. One special rapporteur and one working group of experts will carry out a country visits this month. Additionally, three working groups will hold private sessions in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice will hold its 24th Session from January 28 to February 1, 2019 in New York, United States.
The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises will hold its 22nd Session from February 4 to February 8, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances will hold its 117th Session from February 11 to February 15, 2019 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation agreed to visit Lesotho from February 4 to February 15, 2019.
The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent will carry out a fact-finding visit to Belgium from February 4 to February 11, 2019.
During their country visits, these special procedures mandate holders will assess both the overall human rights situation in the country and the issues specific to their thematic focus. Experts also meet with civil society, government, and national human rights institutions when they visit a country. Their findings are published later in reports addressed to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. See OHCHR, Country and other visits of Special Procedures. To view the full list of forthcoming country visits, review the Special Procedures’ Visits document and visit the OHCHR website. For more information on each special procedure, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will hold its 171st Period of Sessions from February 13 to February 15, 2019 in Sucre, Bolivia. During the session, it will hold public hearings on a range of human rights concerns in the region, including in 13 countries. The schedule of hearings is available on the IACHR website. For more information on the IACHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will continue holding its 129th Regular Session which began on January 28 and will close on February 8, 2019 in San Jose, Costa Rica. During its sessions, the IACtHR typically holds public hearings on the merits of individual complaints and deliberates on contentious cases alleging human rights violations. For more information about the IACtHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold a Grand Chamber hearing in the case of Ukraine v. Russia (no. 20958/14) on February 27, 2019 in Strasbourg, France. See ECtHR, Calendar of Hearings. This case is one of five inter-State applications pending before the ECtHR regarding events preceding and following from the Russian Federation’s assumption of control over the Crimean peninsula and its exercise of control over separatist and armed groups in Eastern Ukraine. [ECtHR Press Release: Ukraine; ECtHR Press Release: Adjourn] In this case, Ukraine alleges that Russia’s control over the region makes it responsible for the violation of numerous human rights listed in the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to respect for private life (Article 8), freedom of religion (Article 9), freedom of expression (Article 10), freedom of assembly and association (Article 11), right to an effective remedy (Article 13), and the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14). [ECtHR Press Release: Ukraine] Ukraine alleges that Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea has resulted in the killings of military personnel and civilians both directly by Russian forces and through Russia’s support for violent separatist groups. The Government also alleges that Russia is responsible for the torture and other forms of ill-treatment of Ukrainians based on their ethnic origin. [ECtHR Press Release: Ukraine]
For more information on the European Court, visit the IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.
In a new report, the International Labor Organization (ILO) proposes a “human-centred agenda for the future of work,” advocating bold action to reduce inequalities and uncertainties in employment by increasing education, training, and support programs; solidifying workers’ rights and protections; and, expanding investment in decent and sustainable work. See ILO, Work for a Brighter Future (2019). The report urges governments to seize opportunities presented by technology, the green economy, and demographic changes. Its key recommendations include instituting: a “universal labour guarantee” that includes a right to an adequate living wage regardless of employment situation; lifelong social protection; lifelong educational and training opportunities; gender equality initiatives; and new private investment incentives to benefit historically excluded or under protected workers. The report was prepared by ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work and released on January 22, marking the beginning of ILO’s centenary year. [ILO Press Release] The report will be presented and debated at the Centenary International Labor Conference in June 2019. See ILO, Work for a Brighter Future. at 55.
The ILO report’s release came the day after the United Nations Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights published new Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments of Economic Reforms to assist stakeholders in assessing the impact of economic policies and ensuring that these are anchored in human rights standards. [OHCHR] According to the Independent Expert, “The thrust of the Guiding Principles is that States cannot shy away from their human rights obligations in economic policy making at all times, even in times of economic crisis.” [OHCHR] Both publications reflect broader efforts at the international level to advance labor rights and the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights in a comprehensive manner that is centered in human rights.
Emerging Challenges & The Future of Work
The ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work identifies expanding youth populations in some regions and aging populations in others as an emerging global challenge that is likely to significantly impact the future of working life. See ILO, Work for a Brighter Future at 18-21. By 2050, the ILO projects that almost all parts of the world will see a sharp increase in the percentage of the dependent population (individuals aged 0-14 and 65+). See id. at 19. Many countries have a quickly aging population, which is expected to place an increased burden on social security and healthcare programs, while the other countries are seeing expanding youth populations, which may increase youth unemployment and migratory trends. See id. at 18. To address these trends, the ILO projects that by 2030 the global economy will need to create 344 million jobs in addition to the 190 million jobs necessary to address current global unemployment. See id. at 20.
The report also focuses on the impact of innovations in technology and automation on future workforces. The Commission highlights studies showing that almost half of workers in the United States are at risk of having their current employment replaced by automation, over half of the jobs in South East Asia are at risk of automation in the next 20 years, two thirds of jobs in the developing world are vulnerable to automation, and that nearly 50 percent of companies expect that automation will reduce some of their full-time workforce by 2022. See id. at 19. Although automation will likely create new jobs, the Commission believes that those likely to lose their jobs in the transition will be the least equipped to take advantage of new opportunities because they will not have the skills that the digital economy will demand. See id. at 18. In addition to automation, the emergence of “crowd-working websites” and “app-mediated work” risk creating regressive working practices for an entire generation, which the Committee, borrowing from Angela Merkel, described as “digital day laborers.” See id.
Further, the Commission notes that adequate responses to the risks of climate change, which disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, rural economies, and low-income countries, will also have a significant impact on labor markets. See id. at 18, 47. The ILO projects that implementation of the Paris Climate Agenda will lead to an estimated global job loss of around six million. See id. at 19.
These emerging trends will only add to a significant number of current labor challenges, such as rates of global unemployment in the hundreds of millions, the two billion people working in informal employment, the 300 million workers living in extreme poverty, and the 2.78 million people suffering from fatal work-related injuries and illnesses, among other issues. See id. at 18, 20. Despite these challenges, the Commission is optimistic about the future, anticipating that “countless opportunities lie ahead to improve the quality of working lives, expand choice, close the gender gap, [and] reverse the damages wreaked by global inequality.” See id. at 21.
The Global Commission’s Recommendations
The Commission’s proposed solution involves a fundamental “reinvigoration” of the social contract. See id. at 10. The Commission identifies a need to ensure that the working population receives a fair share of the economic growth and that there is respect for the rights of working people, including social protections against risk. See id. The Commission’s report focuses on three specific areas where States can implement these aims. See id. at 11.
The Commission’s first overarching recommendation is that States significantly increase investment in people’s capabilities to participate in an evolving labor market. See id. at 11. To achieve this recommendation, the report proposes establishing a universal entitlement to lifelong learning, increasing support for those transitioning between careers, establishing social policies to achieve gender equality, and ensuring a strong social security program that covers individuals in all stages of life. See id. at 11-12.
The Commission’s second set of recommendations urge States should work to improve the institutions of work—the “building blocks of just societies.” See id. at 38. The report proposes establishing universal labor guarantees that set a baseline for the arrangements between workers and employers. See id. These guarantees include establishing a “living wage” guarantee, maximum limits on working hours, and worker health and safety guarantees. See id. at 12. Additionally, the report notes the need for improving work/life balance, guaranteeing the right to collectively bargain, and ensuring that the implementation of artificial intelligence takes a “human-in-command approach.” See id. at 12-13.
The Commission’s last overarching recommendation is that States increase investment in decent and sustainable work. See id. at 13. Drawing from the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Commission emphasizes the need for job creation in areas that are both economically and environmentally sustainable, and that favor human development. See id. This includes the development of rural economies, where the future of many of the world’s workers reside, and related physical and digital infrastructure improvements. See id. Importantly, the Commission stresses the need to reshape business incentive structures to encourage long-term investments and to ensure that companies are held accountable for the impact of their activities on the environment and communities. See id. at 49.
The Independent Expert’s Guiding Principles
Similarly, the new Guiding Principles provide clarity on how to advance economic policies in a manner that upholds States’ human rights commitments, following the UN Independent Expert’s findings that economic reforms can have a negative effect on human rights, especially in cases where economic policies are enacted in response to economic crises. See Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, UN Doc. A/HC/40/57, 19 December 2018, paras. 1-4. The Independent Expert calls for the use of human rights impact assessments as a tool for all levels of government and institutional actors to assess how economic policies comply with their human rights obligations. See id. at paras. 5-9.
The Guiding Principles place the burden of proof on the States and other financial institutional actors, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to demonstrate that proposed economic reforms will realize rather than undermine human rights obligations. See id. at paras. 3.1-3.2. The Principles also state that any human rights impact assessment should identify potential and cumulative impacts of measures on groups of individuals that historically have faced multiple forms of discrimination, such as women, the LGBTI community, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, migrants, people living in poverty, and religious or other minorities, among others. See id. at paras. 7.1-7.3. Further, the Independent Expert emphasizes that States have an obligation to ensure the progressive realization of economic, social, and cultural rights, and that any policy should utilize the maximum of their available resources to achieve this goal. See id. at paras. 9.1-9.5
The ILO’s Global Commission for the Future of Work is an independent commission established in August of 2017 as part of the ILO’s The Future of Work Centenary Initiative. See ILO, Global Commission on the Future of Work – Five things you need to know. The Commission’s mandate is to identify “the key challenges facing the world of work and making practical recommendations about how these may be addressed in the future.”
The ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations with 187 Member States. See ILO, About the ILO. The role of the ILO is to oversee compliance with international labor standards, develop labor policies, and devise programs that promote decent work. See id.
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