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The right to social protection

Updated by Krzysztof Hagemejer , Emmanuelle St-Pierre Guilbault on 06.08.2014

Social protection is a human right and is enshrined as such in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and in other major United Nations human rights instruments.



The achievement of social protection for all is at the core of the ILO's Constitution and mandate. The Declaration of Philadelphia (1944), which is an integral part of the ILO Constitution, recognizes that the extension of social protection worldwide is one of the Organizations' main objectives. More precisely, it recognises the solemn obligation of the ILO to further among the nations of the world programs that will achieve, inter alia, "the extension of social security measures to provide a basic income to all in need of such protection and comprehensive medical care", as well as "provision for child welfare and maternity protection", thereby extending the protection from workers to all those in need.

To this end, the ILO has adopted Conventions and Recommendations on social protection that lay down obligations and guidelines for States. These international standards have greatly contributed to the development of international social security law and to the definition of the human right to social protection.

The ILO promotes a rights-based approach to social protection with ILO standards as its principal means of action for assisting member states towards the realisation of this right.

The ILO also adopts further initiatives to support international efforts aimed towards the realization of social protection for all:

  • In 2003, it launched the Global Campaign on Social Protection and Coverage for All, reflecting a global consensus on the part of governments and employers' and workers' organizations to broaden social security coverage among working people, particularly in the informal economy, and raising awareness about the role of social security in economic and social development. The campaign also seeks to develop a broad partnership involving international organizations, donor countries, social security institutions and civil society organizations.
  • In 2008, the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization established a new foundation on which the ILO can effectively support the efforts of Member States to promote and achieve progress and social justice through the four strategic objectives of the ILO's Decent Work Agenda: the promotion of fundamental rights, employment creation, social protection and social dialogue.
  • In 2009, in response to the crises, the ILO designed a framework to guide national and international policies aimed at stimulating economic recovery, generating jobs and extending social protection for all. The Global Jobs Pact specifically calls on countries to give consideration to build "adequate social protection for all, drawing on a basic social protection floor including: access to health care, income security for the elderly and persons with disabilities, child benefits and income security combined with public employment guarantee schemes for the unemployed and working poor."
  • In 2011, the Recurrent discussion on the strategic objective of social protection (social security) at the 100th International Labour Conference came out with strong conclusions regarding the extension of social security to all through national defined social protection floors.
  • In June 2012, the International Labour Conference adopted the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202). This Recommendation provides guidance to Member States, so as to ensure that all members of society enjoy at least a basic level of social security throughout their lives.

The Social Protection Floor Initiative (SPF-I), launched in 2009, is also grounded in a rights-based framework. Its concept is based on shared principles of social justice and reflects the call of the Declaration of Human rights for adequate life standards, access to health, education, food, housing and social security. Moreover, the SPF-I enables the concrete realization of human rights. The results of ILO research shows that a social protection floor  can be afforded by virtually all countries and that it would constitute an effective tool in the fight against poverty and in reaching the Millennium Development Goals.