Are Labour Rights Human Rights?

Senior Common Room at Birmingham Law School
Wednesday 18 January 2012 (12:30-14:00)

If you wish to attend please contact Dr Anastasia Vakulenko at

Staff Research Seminar: Dr Virginia Mantouvalou (Lecturer, University College London)


Are labour rights human rights? This question has attracted much interest in recent years among lawyers, academic scholars, trade unionists and other activists, and has given rise to heated debates. In human rights law and labour law scholarship, some endorse the character of labour rights as human rights without hesitation, while others view it with scepticism and suspicion. This paper finds that there are in fact three different approaches in the literature that examines labour rights as human rights, which are not always distinguished with sufficient clarity. First, there is a positivistic approach, according to which a group of rights are human rights insofar as certain treaties or Constitutions recognise them as such. The question whether labour rights are human rights is uncomplicated on this approach. A response to it comes through a survey of human rights law. If labour rights are incorporated in human rights documents, they are human rights. If they do not figure therein, they are not human rights. A second way in which the question of this paper is approached is an instrumental one that looks at the consequences of using strategies, such as litigation or civil society action, which promote labour rights as human rights. This is the most common way in which labour law scholars analyse the problem in question. If strategies are, as a matter of social fact, successful, the question is answered in the affirmative; if not, scepticism is expressed. The third approach to the question whether labour rights are human rights is a normative one. It examines what a human right is, and assesses, given this definition, whether certain labour rights are human rights. This path is the one that has been least taken in the literature, but is an important one and has implications for the previous two approaches. This paper maps out the three approaches above, addresses the main arguments advanced in scholarship and explores their implications.

Discussant:  Dr Anastasia Vakulenko


  • Staff Research Seminars take place at 1pm in the Senior or Junior Common Room, Birmingham Law School
  • A sandwich lunch and a glass of wine will be provided from 12:30 pm
  • Postgraduate students and academic staff are welcome to attend.

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