Caroline Moser and Andy Norton
human rights, policy, sustainability, poverty reduction, sustainable development, livelihood security, World Bank
The objective of this paper is to explore the potential contribution of a human rights
perspective to the development of policies and programmes that strengthen the sustainability of
poor people’s assets and livelihood security. To achieve this it outlines a conceptual framework
for addressing issues of empowerment and poverty reduction, by examining the links between
human rights and asset and livelihood security as they relate to the issue of sustainable
The particular relevance of developing such a framework relates to the opportunity provided by
the World Bank’s decision to focus its 2002/3 World Development Report on the theme of
sustainable development, as well as the Social Development Department’s upcoming Social
Development Strategy Paper. In policy terms, therefore, the main focus of the paper is on the
specific context of the World Bank.
The first section outlines the objectives of the paper, and highlights the considerable challenges
that this task presents.
Section two reviews key elements in human rights, livelihoods and sustainable development
debates. This shows that the concepts of livelihoods and sustainable development both require a
stronger analysis of power relations, institutions and politics if they are to provide a useful basis
for an holistic understanding of development processes. In assessing the potential of a human
rights perspective to address this missing dimension, there are a number of unresolved issues
relating to the practical integration of a human rights perspective into development
interventions. Nevertheless a human rights framework provides a useful entry point for the
analysis of asymmetries in power and the institutions that reinforce those relations.
The third section then develops a conceptual framework for the analysis of the human rights
dimensions of livelihoods, supported by case study material. This operates at three levels;
normative, analytical and operational.
The final section pulls together some of the most relevant issues highlighted by the conceptual
framework. It argues that a rights and livelihoods perspective provides the basis for developing a
more concrete understanding of social sustainability and, concomitantly, sustainable
development. It outlines two propositions for analysing social sustainability from a rights and
livelihoods perspective, and identifies missing gaps in the paper that require further elaboration.
The rest of this summary highlights the key points from each section.
Caroline Moser and Andy Norton, To Claim our Rights: Livelihood Security, Human Rights and Sustainable Development (Oversees Development Institute: 2001)