Book Brief: Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights

Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Terra Lawson-Remer, and Susan Randolph
Oxford University Press, 2015
ISBN 978-0-19-973551-8
272 pages

By Health and Human Rights Journal intern Antonia Chan

Published July 13, 2015

Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights addresses a question critical to health and human rights: how can we develop a better framework for evaluating societal progress, given that overall improvements in wealth and technological attainment often mask deep social inequalities? To answer that question, Fukuda-Parr, Lawson-Remer, and Randolph constructed a Social and Economic Rights Fulfillment (SERF) index summarizing countries’ social and economic rights performance based on international norms and maximum available resources. Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a springboard, the authors then propose that human rights principles should guide economic policymaking, with a focus on duty bearers as well as rights holders.

Global trends in social and economic rights attainment are discussed through the lens of the SERF Index. The focus is on differences in state performance; by disaggregating national results to groups within countries, extreme disparities and even retrogressions are made clear. Lastly, the study examines characteristics of countries that perform well versus those that perform poorly. Surprising and counterintuitive relationships are found between rights fulfillment and other factors such as democratic governance, social spending, economic growth, and gender equality.

Fukuda-Parr, Lawson-Remer, and Randolph reached four major conclusions: resource constraints pose a serious challenge for countries with low levels of per capita income; high-income OECD countries are generally unaffected by resource constraints and thus have no excuse for failing to ensure residents’ enjoyment of maximum social and economic rights;  there is a great deal of variation among lower-income countries with respect to rights outcomes; and resource constraints vary by right.

The rigorous approach to creating a cross-national evaluation of social and economic rights attainment, coupled with in-depth analysis of country performance given resource constraints, make this book a complementary, engaging read for those interested in human rights advocacy and poverty alleviation.