Who Are These People?

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is a United Nations Treaty that went into effect on January 3, 1976. [1] The parties to the treaty state their recognition that “the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights….”  

The parties to the treaty commit themselves to the implementation of a number of human rights, including:

·       The right to fair wages and equal pay to women “for work of equal value”;

·       The right to a decent living for one’s self and his family derived from one’s employment;

·       Safe and healthy working conditions;

·       Promotions in the workplace, with only seniority and competence as considerations;

·       Limitation of working hours, and paid holidays;

·       The right to form and join trade unions, with the right to strike;

·       The right to social security, including social insurance;

·       Paid leave, or leave with adequate social security, for working mothers for a reasonable period both before and after childbirth;

·       The right of every person, and his family, to adequate food, shelter, and clothing;

·       The creation of conditions that will assure to everyone all medical service and attention in the event of sickness, and

·       Higher education made accessible to all, in accordance with capacity, with the progressive introduction of free education.

This treaty, or covenant, has 162 parties, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, all of Europe, and Russia. [2] Seven countries have signed the covenant, but have yet to ratify it. The United States is among those seven countries. During the administration of George W. Bush, Amnesty International described the position of the United States this way: 

“The United States signed the Covenant in 1979 under the Carter administration but is not fully bound by it until it is ratified. For political reasons, the Carter administration did not push for the necessary review of the Covenant by the Senate, which must give its “advice and consent” before the US can ratify a treaty. The Reagan and Bush (Sr.) administrations took the view that economic, social, and cultural rights were not really rights but merely desirable social goals and therefore should not be the object of binding treaties. The Clinton Administration did not deny the nature of these rights but did not find it politically expedient to engage in a battle with Congress over the Covenant. The current Bush (W.) administration follows in line with the view of the previous Bush (Sr.) administration.”   

There does not appear that any change in policy will be forthcoming from the Obama administration. It has specifically stated that it “does not seek action at this time” on the treaty. [3] 

So it appears that the treaty will not be ratified by the United States anytime soon because it is politically unfeasible to attempt it. A treaty becomes the law of the land as much as the Constitution and federal statutory law [4], and there aren’t enough people in power in this country who would want provisions recognized as basic human decency by the rest of the civilized world to become legal requirements. But this gives rise to a very basic and important question. 

Who are these people who govern us?

Jack Quirk