Human Rights and Sustainability
“Peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.


Regardless of where we come from or how we go about our lives, all of us are born with fundamental human rights. Human rights are those basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law.

While some countries protect and safeguard the basic human rights of their citizens, others have demonstrated glaring human rights abuses. To help us understand why these global differences exist, it can be valuable to look at social, economic, and environmental factors and think about how these factors influence us on individual level, in our communities, and globally.

Societal factors influencing human rights and global sustainability are often deeply rooted and can take years, even decades to correct. Governments that cannot or will not provide services to their people pose a risk to citizens and their human rights. Such environments are far more likely to experience conflict and instability and are less likely to protect and enforce peoples' rights. When citizens’ rights are not observed it can prevent them from participating fully in a society, further feeding an unjust cycle.

We live in a global economy. For the most part, countries trade with each other, and businesses can operate where they want. Many would agree that this globalized world has created jobs and helped grow the economy as a whole. However, certain economic decisions can violate human rights. For example, if a business decides to expand internationally and invest in projects that enforce child labor or utilize sweatshops with dangerous working conditions that do not pay workers a livable wage, that business is responsible for the violation of human rights. This situation is not uncommon, and many corporations have come under scrutiny for supporting unjust, unsafe working environments.

Environmental factors influence all of us, every second of the day whether we realize it or not. Access to basic human needs such as food, water, air, and shelter, are necessary to every human being. Imagine not having access to clean water or being forced to breathe in polluted air every day. Pollution is responsible for the death of approximately 2 billion people each year and billions more contract pollution-related diseases. Corporations that release harmful pollutants into the air violate human rights. Similarly, a corporation that pollutes a local water source and makes it unusable violates human rights. 

Where does sustainability come into play?

When people are able to live peaceful and secure lives with full access to natural resources, a clean environment, employment, education, and social services, they are more likely to contribute to sustainable communities. However, when the basic human needs and fundamental human rights of individuals are not met, the ability to participate in social, economic, and environmental systems that promote sustainability is compromised.

By taking a closer look at specific types of rights such as political rights, gender rights, education rights, civil rights, religious rights, rights to health and well-being, and labor rights, we can analyze their significance and how people have worked to secure these rights. Around the world, governments, organizations, and individuals have spoken out against human rights violations in an attempt to secure human rights for all. Youth can, and have long been a major force for establishing peace. This is largely because young people tend to be very passionate and idealistic. As shown through actions like volunteerism, youth and young adults truly believe that they can make a difference. For example, 55% of youth ages 12-18 volunteer in U.S. communities, nearly double the rate of adult volunteerism. This passion and motivation to act and move people can be a strong factor in driving change, promoting peace, and ending conflict.

What can you do to help?

At the local level, learning about conflict management and to resolve conflicts you encounter can be very useful. Building awareness of and respect for other cultures can help people overcome discrimination and social divisions.

Actions you can take:

Become skilled in mediating conflict.

Support or volunteer with organizations that work to alleviate conflict and violence.

Support international peacekeeping efforts with letters to government officials.

Encourage others to do so too!



Diane Mithell:

Really enjoyed your blog! Thanks. diane

Jan 28, 2018

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