2. The principle of equity and eradication of poverty

We have enough food to feed everybody. Yet many still go hungry. While many people are overwhelmed with choice, and constantly encouraged to buy more, around the world billions struggle daily just to survive. But countries and people are not rich or poor solely by good or bad luck. Our economic system is driven by consumption and market prices. It tends to concentrate wealth and to leave those without purchasing power to lose out. On top, debt burdens maintain the present distribution of wealth and resources. Poor countries and people are often prevented from lifting themselves out of poverty instead of supported in doing so.


This principle is aimed at implementing laws and policies that:

  • promote a just distribution of resources amongst people living in the world today, whether within or between countries;
  • preserve, maintain and renew natural resources and the global environment so that they will be available to future generations;
  • recognize especially the rights of indigenous people, as well as the rights to development, to work, to education, to property, to be treated equally and to the highest achievable standard of physical and mental health;
  • promote legal empowerment of the poor.

These laws and policies can help meet the eight Millennium Development Goals set to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2015.

Download CISDL draft legal working paper on equity and the eradication of poverty.
Read more about the 4 pillars of legal empowerment of the poor:
access to justice and the rule of law, property rights, labour rights and business rights.
Download CISDL legal working paper on the 7 Future Justice principles.


This principle is already widely recognized in international law or practice. For example:

Economic, Social & Cultural Rights

“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.”

Article 11.1, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966


WHO Constitution

“THE STATE parties to this Constitution declare...that the following principles are basic to the happiness, harmonious relations and security of all peoples:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Opening words of the WHO Constitution, 1946

Convention on Climate Change

“Affirming that responses to climate change should be coordinated with social and economic development in an integrated manner with a view to avoiding adverse impacts on the latter, taking into full account the legitimate priority needs of developing countries for the achievement of sustained economic growth and the eradication of poverty,…

In their actions to achieve the objective of the Convention and to implement its provisions, the Parties shall be guided, inter alia, by the following:

1. The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

2. The specific needs and special circumstances of developing country Parties, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, and of those Parties, especially developing country Parties, that would have to bear a disproportionate or abnormal burden under the Convention, should be given full consideration.”

Preamble, and Article 3.1 and 3.2, UN Convention on Climate Change, 1992

UN Convention on Desertification

“The Parties shall, according to their respective capabilities, and subject to their respective national legislation and/or policies, protect, promote and use in particular relevant traditional and local technology, knowledge, know-how and practices and, to that end, they undertake to:…
(b) ensure that such technology, knowledge, know-how and practices are adequately protected and that local populations benefit directly, on an equitable basis and as mutually agreed, from any commercial utilization of them or from any technological development derived therefrom;…”
Article 18.2(b), UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought, 1994

FAO International Seed Treaty

“11.1 In furtherance of the objectives of conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use, as stated in Article 1, the Multilateral System shall cover the plant genetic
resources for food and agriculture listed in Annex I, established according to criteria of food security and interdependence.”
Article 11.1, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, 2001

Millennium Declaration

“11. We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.

12. We resolve therefore to create an environment – at the national and global levels alike – which is conducive to development and to the elimination of poverty.”

Paragraphs 11 and 12, Millennium Declaration, 2000

Questions and resources

The 3 questions below can be used to focus upon this principle, and to test the action of any law or policy:

2.1 Does the law/policy help to address pressing poverty and human rights challenges?

2.2 Does it demonstrate respect among generations, by including provisions that take into account the needs and aspirations of future generations of life?

2.3 Does it promote respect within the present generation of life, by promoting social justice, equity for all peoples, an end to gender discrimination, respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, eradication of poverty and less discrimination among species?

The links below have been selected because we think they contain information which may help policy-makers develop laws and policies in the context of this principle and these questions: 

  • The Millennium Development Goals align largely with this principle and these questions.
  • MDG Support at UNDP (formerly the UN Millennium Project) assists developing countries in preparing and implementing MDG-based national development strategies. Our programme on Future Justice and Millennium Development Goals also focuses on implementation.
  • UNDP offers support for strategies and policies for poverty reduction.


Key areas of support include:

  • Macroeconomic and structural policies - formulating the overall policy framework for growth for poverty reduction;
  • Employment for poverty reduction – strategies for the employment- economic growth-poverty reduction nexus;
  • Public resource management – focusing on fiscal issues, in terms of policies and management, to make sure they complement poverty reduction initiatives;
  • Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) – making ICT work for poverty reduction through policy interventions; and
  • Civil society and the Millennium Development Goals – developing strategies for partnering with civil society in overcoming poverty.
  • The UNDP Human Development Report 2000 provides good information on human rights as an intrinsic part of development and at development as a means to realizing human rights; and how human rights bring principles of accountability and social justice to the process of human development.
  • This 2003 Practice Note on Human Rights and Poverty Reduction outlines a framework for human rights integration in poverty reduction and sets out what UNDP will do to help. 
  • The World Health Organization provides support for policy implementation in order to promote health equity, following the recommendations of the 2008 final report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health to improve daily living conditions; to tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources; and to measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action.
  • In 2008, the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor reported that there are four areas in which reform is needed in order to ensure that the law works for the poor: access to justice and the rule of law; property rights; labour rights; and business rights.

The report has identified reform options relating to each of these areas:

Access to justice and the rule of law

  • Develop effective, affordable and accessible systems of alternative dispute resolution.
  • Promote legal simplification and standardization along with legal literacy campaigns targeting the poor.
  • Develop stronger legal aid systems and expanded legal service cadres with paralegals and law students.
  • Promote structural reform enabling community-based groups to pool legal risks.

Property rights

  • Institutionalize an efficient property rights governance system that systematically and massively brings the extralegal economy into the formal economy and that ensures that it remains easily accessible to all citizens.
  • Promote an inclusive property rights system that will automatically recognize real and immoveable property bought by men as the co-property of their wives or common law partners, as well as clear inheritance rules.
  • Create a functioning market for the exchange of assets that is transparent and accountable.
  • Ensure that all property recognised in each nation is legally enforceable by law and that all owners have access to the same rights and standards.
  • Reinforce property rights, including tenure security, through social and other public policies, such as access to housing, low interest loans, and the distribution of state land.
  • Develop legal guidelines for forced relocation, including fair compensation.
  • Recognition of a variety of land tenure, including customary rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, group rights, certificates, etc., including their standardisation and integration of these practices into the legal system.
  • State land audits with findings published to discourage illegal taking possession of public land.
  • Simplified procedures to register and transfer land and property.

Labour rights

  • Support fundamental rights at work, especially freedom of association, collective bargaining and non-discrimination.
  • Improve quality of labour regulations and enforcement measures.
  • Develop inclusive approaches to social protection, delinked from the employment relationship. Labour rights (health and safety, hours of work, minimum income) should be extended to workers in the informal economy.
  • Ensure more opportunities for education, training and retraining.

Business rights

  • Strengthen appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks, including enforceable commercial contracts, private property rights and use of public space.
  • Promote fair commercial transactions between informal enterprises and formal firms. Including financial, business development, and marketing services for informal enterprises.
  • Promote inclusive financial services so that micro entrepreneurs in the developing world can benefit from what many of their counterparts elsewhere take for granted: savings, incentives, tax rebates, credit, insurance, pensions, subsidies and other tools for risk management.
  • Support social protection for informal entrepreneurs.
  • Improve identity registration systems, without user fees.

  • Model constitutional and statutory provisions to protect the needs of future generations were developed in 2008 by the Science and Environmental Health Network and The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.
  • Information on protecting the needs of future generations through legal mechanisms such as an Ombusperson is here.