Food and Human Rights


by Ben Lilliston • 11/14/08 • How would our global food system be different if we started with a human rights perspective that guarantees everyone the right to adequate food? This is the fundamental question asked by IATP’s Carin Smaller and Sophia Murphy in a new paper, Bridging the Divide: a human rights vision for global food trade.

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

The paper found that current international trade rules set at the World Trade Organization (WTO) conflict with a human rights framework in several ways, including: discouraging state intervention; using exclusively a trade yardstick to measure progress; ignoring the most vulnerable groups; dictating only one economic model; and failing to meet minimum levels of participation and transparency.

A shift toward a human rights framework, based on international law already adopted by nearly all countries of the world, would require some important changes. A human rights approach makes explicit the requirement that available food must be affordable or otherwise accessible to every individual. And as important, reaching such a requirement does not dictate any one way of organizing markets or stimulating economic growth, giving countries the flexibility they need to reach this fundamental goal.

This new paper is part of a series of papers associated with the upcoming conference, Confronting the Global Food Challenge. The conference is being held in Geneva, Switzerland and includes civil society organizations from around the world. You can find additional papers, an agenda and background material in English, Spanish and French at our conference web page.

—Ben Lilliston