Economic and social rights require governments and other powerful actors to ensure that people have access to basic needs, and that people have a voice in decisions affecting their well-being. Poverty and injustice are neither inevitable nor natural, but arise from deliberate decisions and policies, and the human rights legal framework provides a way to hold public officials accountable for development policies and priorities. States are bound to ensure minimum human rights regardless of their resource constraints. For ESC rights, minimum core requirements include available foodstuffs for the population, essential primary health care, basic shelter and housing, and the most basic forms of education.
How do states fulfill their minimum requirements? Every government in the world has certain responsibilities regarding its citizens. The human rights legal framework spells out those responsibilities with the following three obligations:.
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Human rights treaties are signed by governments, and are the duty of governments to enforce. However, this does not mean that non-state actors are free to violate people's human rights. There are three main ways to apply human rights standards to non-state actors.
First, governments have the primary responsibility to protect human rights, including from violations by non-state actors. Second, individuals may enforce their basic rights through judicial action. Finally, non-state actors are bound to respect human rights standards through the universal protection of human dignity. At the international level, the most effective enforcement mechanism for all international human rights is political pressure.
Those states that have ratified the ICESCR are required to submit regular reports every five years to the Committee on Economic and Social Rights that detail their human rights standards.
When these reports are reviewed, it provides an excellent opportunity for civil society and the international community at large to put pressure on a country to adhere to its legal obligations. For those countries that haven't ratified the ICESCR, there are other international venues that apply political pressure.
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Larger bodies, like the Commission on Human Rights, can also be used to apply political pressure. Additionally, petitions in regional human rights commissions can also be effective in highlighting an issue and seeking remedy. At the domestic level, there are political and legal remedies for many ESC violations. Although these remedies are still far from comprehensive, they do demonstrate that economic and social rights are fundamentally justiciable. For example, a core part of every ESCR is a prohibition on discrimination, whether for employment, housing, or food.
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Anti-discrimination laws exist in most countries, and are fully enforceable in a court of law. Opponents of ESCR, regrettably including some in the human rights field, argue that ESCR are not judicially enforceable and that they are too vague to monitor effectively. Yet most sovereign states have enshrined ESCR in their constitutions, and there are numerous examples of courts applying domestic and international law to protect ESCR.
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Vagueness has also not prevented international development agencies from producing immense volumes of research on global social and economic conditions. Historical neglect of ESCR cannot be attributed to methodological obstacles. Shopping defines contemporary culture.
We are constantly bombarded by goods and advertisements that tell us our life is not enough without that new phone, that new gadget, that new dress. And yet the minute you purchase your phone or laptop, it is obsolete. Every six months, fashion editors tell us our entire closet is out—our clothing is disposable.
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Shopping is not only a lifestyle, it is a form of entertainment. Whether it is infomercials and shopping networks or makeover shows, we not only shop, we watch people shop. The act of shopping has also become increasingly depersonalized.
In the age of the internet and smart phones, we can shop anywhere at anytime and have no contact with another human being. We can shop alone, in secret. I remember growing up going to my local drugstore with my mother. Today I shop at drugstore. I shop anonymously. We should never forget that to consume is to devour.
The value and consequences of shopping in dominant US culture puts the consumer on a roller-coaster ride. One year we are told that excessive, unwise spending and its resultant debt have led our country into our economic ruin. The very shopping that put individuals and families spiraling into debt is now being celebrated once again.
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While last year was the year of reserve and frugality, we are now back where we belong: in the season of spending. While not reviving the post-September 11 rhetoric of shopping as an act of nationalism, we are once again being encouraged to spend—and told that spending is good for us. While disagreeing with this particular logic, I do agree that shopping is an ethical act. Today we live in a culture of cheap. We have an unprecedented access to cheap goods, yet we must recognize that cheap goods are cheaply made.
I am not speaking of quality, I am speaking of cheap labor. We must recognize that through the act of shopping, whether it is for an article of clothing, a toy, a pint of strawberries, or even our morning cup of coffee, we participate in a global economy that values profit over people. Disposable goods are made by disposable people, faceless individuals whose backbreaking and unjustly paid labor produce the goods we consume.
Religion and shopping may seem like an unlikely pairing, and yet as I dived into my own tradition, Christianity, I found a wealth of biblical scholars, Christian teachings, and Christian scholars that spoke to our consumerism. Oddly, I came to find the clearest answer to my quest to understand our current culture of shopping in the fourth century.
Augustine of Hippo , in his poetically written spiritual autobiography, The Confessions , struggles with misguided desire in his long and arduous path to Christianity. As I searched for a theological category to come to terms with our context, the word concupiscence leapt out at me. How does Augustine define lust and passion?
He often describes it as concupiscence: strong desire, especially sexual, that sometimes implies sin or evil. Concupiscence refers to compulsive and pleasureless enjoyment. Augustine sees all desire as dangerous and evil, for passion leads to a loss of control.