Work, Human Rights, and Human Capabilities – Virginia Mantouvalou (UCL)

by | Jan 18, 2018

Oxford Labour Law Discussion Group seminar

Professor Virginia Mantouvalou (University College London)

Work, Human Rights and Human Capabilities

Date and time: Monday 22 January 2018 at 12:30pm

Venue: Brasenose College Tower Bursary, Oxford

A sandwich lunch is provided



The meaning and content of the right to work is controversial, with some suggesting that it is a valuable addition to a list of human rights and others saying that we should eliminate it. Do we have a right to work and how should we understand it? The main purpose of this paper is to provide an account of the right to work which is better than the one emerging from justiciable human rights documents that mainly focus on protection from forced labour and other forms of severe workplace exploitation. The alternative developed here is grounded on the idea of meaningful work that we find in scholarship, which I analyse on the basis of the theory of capabilities, as developed by Martha Nussbaum.

I argue that a capabilities account of the right to work can bring out aspects of it that are underdeveloped at present. The right to work understood on the basis of capabilities theory is, first, a right to employability, which imposes duties to educate and train individuals in order to be able to pursue work, which is a valuable functioning. On capabilities theory, on the other hand, people do not have a duty to work. They simply have to be able to pursue work. Moreover, the paper suggests that the right to work grounded on capabilities theory can support a right for caregivers to care for dependents without risking destitution. When it comes to working conditions as a component of the right to work, the paper argues that individuals must have opportunities for meaningful work, on the one hand, and also opportunities for work for an employer that respects human rights, such as the right to private life, on the other. This is because the workplace serves as a space where people can develop a range of capabilities. Working terms and conditions that undermine human capabilities are incompatible with the right to work.

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