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Back | Programme Area: Research-Related Activities

Economic Inequality, Financial Crises and Human Rights

Date: 9 Mar 2016

  • Time: 14.00 - 16.00
  • Location: Room XXIII, Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland
  • Counterpart(s): Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (Geneva), the UN Independent Expert on Debt and Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, International Labour Office
  • Project Title: UNRISD Seminar Series

Official Side Event of the 31st Session of the Human Rights Council

The event aims to contribute to current debates on the development and rights implications of inequality by exploring the linkages between wealth and income inequality and human rights, with a particular focus on economic and financial crises. It will discuss how policies and institutions that are grounded in a human rights framework can contribute to reducing inequalities and strengthening resilience. The event aims to forge stronger linkages between analytical work on economic inequality, financial crisis and human rights, and the work of UN human rights monitoring bodies. The report of the UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, submitted to the Human Rights Council at its 31st session, will constitute a basis for the discussion (A/HRC/31/60).


Financial Crises, Austerity Measures and Human Rights

The enduring effects of financial and economic crises—and the economic austerity measures often chosen to counter them—have acute negative impacts on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society. Women, children, minorities, migrants, persons with disabilities, older persons, youth and the poor suffer most the effects of decreasing opportunities for work and cuts to social welfare programmes, and reduced affordability of food, housing, water, medical care and other basic needs. At the same time, economic inequality is growing in many countries and regions of the world, and on a global scale the gap between the very rich and the very poor is still shockingly wide. Over the last few years, this problem has received considerable attention from civil society, researchers and the international community.

Current Economic Climate

Recent discussions have begun to focus on the linkages between economic inequality, financial crises and human rights. On the one hand, it seems clear that financial crises and the adjustment programmes adopted in response impair a country’s general economic performance, increase economic inequality, and have negative socioeconomic impacts, particularly on vulnerable populations. On the other hand, the notion that inequality may also be an important contributing factor to the emergence of financial crises has recently gained attention.

The Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights examines these complex issues in his report, focusing in particular on these questions:

  • Does inequality lead to more financial instability?
  • Does financial instability lead to higher levels of inequality?
  • What impacts does increased inequality have on human rights?
  • What guidance does human rights law provide for addressing inequality?


There will be brief presentations by five panellists, which will then form the basis for subsequent debates and questions from the floor.

Panellists are invited to speak on the following topics:

  • Why does inequality need to be considered from a human rights perspective?
  • How is inequality both consequence and cause of sovereign debt and financial crises?
  • How do austerity policies fuel inequalities, negatively impact social protection and social development and impinge on human rights, in particular for vulnerable groups?
  • How can human rights approaches help to address economic inequality?
  • Why are fiscal and tax policies key instruments to promote equality, crisis resilience and human rights?
  • How do economic inequalities go hand in hand with other inequalities and multiple forms of discrimination, whether by gender, race, age or resident status?
  • What needs to be done to create more equal and just societies?

Click here to read the full Concept Note.


Name and Affiliation
Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky
Independent Expert On Foreign Debt and Human Rights
Isabel Ortiz
Director, Social Protection Department, ILO
Economic Inequality, Financial Crises and Human Rights: ILO Perspectives
Richard Wilkinson
Co-Founder, The Equality Trust
Inequality, Shame and Inferiority
Mark Herkenrath
Director, Alliance Sud
Tax (Evasion), Inequality and Human Rights
Stephanie Blankenburg
Systemic Economic Crises, Income Inequality and the Lack of Countervailing Powers
João Lucas Quental Novaes de Almeida
Permanent Mission of Brazil

Welcome Remarks

Hannah Peters, FES Geneva

Closing Remarks

Stefania Tripodi, OHCHR


Katja Hujo, UNRISD


The event will bring together the experiences of national governments, international agencies, non-governmental organizations and academics.


Photo credit: Chowpatty Inequality by Shreyans Bhansali (Common Creatives BY 2.0 via Flickr)