Human Rights and Sustainable Development: Law and Policy Research

The main thematic focus of this research group is the interconnection between human rights and sustainable development.


About the group and its main thematic focus

Our research focuses on the normative, legal, institutional, political and policy analyses of such interconnections. We find immediate inspiration in a range of contemporary challenges associated with change and development, and underpinned by key global processes. The group is multi-disciplinary and explores how these processes impact on human rights, and, reciprocally, how human rights norms give important direction to development.

The new global agenda Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development demands new knowledge about the actors, processes and institutions of and for change. Even if the agenda is weak in making explicit links to human rights, the sustainable development agenda requires human rights grounding as part of the concept of sustainability and prospective ways and institutions for conducting development. The significance for the role of human rights is further reflected in Sustainable Development Goal 16, as well as other substantive and “process” goals. The group aims to contribute to develop such grounding through theoretical and empirical research.

The role of non-state actors

Current interests of the group include the role of non-state actors, and the responsibilities of commercial actors (business) for human rights. This is a fast-growing field of human rights analysis that the group wants to continue to explore and publish on from legal and other social science perspectives. The issue of extra territorial obligation is part of this agenda; it also involves the issues and debates about voluntary versus mandatory (legal) strategies for human rights compliance by non-state actors. The impact on business, for instance in extractive industries or in the food sector is huge, and entails concerns for economic, social and cultural rights as well as a issues of civil and political rights, such as  rights to organise, access to information and legal assistance and advice.

Another field of interest is the shrinking political space for human rights advocacy. Over the last few years a number of countries have introduced laws and policies to curtail the work of human rights defenders at different international, regional, national and local scales, whether in the slums of the Global South, or, international human rights experts, including human rights special rapporteurs at the United Nations. This trend and different articulations, interests and agendas between these levels of the human rights movement itself, may have significant impact on networks of human rights advocates to advance human rights compliance, and mirrors – at least hypothetically – trends of authoritarian and populist control.

A related issue concerns a rapidly urbanising world: while many cities face considerable challenges to provide services and sustainable development, many now also have large economies and strong devolved powers which enable them to emerge as key actors. The ‘right to the city’ concept is both a slogan but also a rapidly emerging global approach to re-thinking cities that are more compatible with residents leading a life in dignity.

Exploring economic, social and cultural human rights

Broadly, the research group explores economic, social and cultural human rights using legal and other social science approaches. Poverty, marginalization and increasing inequalities within and across states are serious human rights concerns, and the research group will continue supporting research on selected rights and marginalized and vulnerable groups (e.g. persons living with disabilities). The policy and institutional perspectives on such threats and challenges to human rights respect and implementation include research on governance, and the inter-relationship between types of governance regime and socio-economic rights fulfilment.

Methods of work

The research group offers an environment for discussing ongoing research, and for developing new research projects for research grant applications. The group has a research assistance that helps organizing workshops, meetings and presentations by group members and visiting scholars. The research group also facilitates collaboration with other academic institutions. 

Relevant research topics - examples

  • Strategies of voluntary (guidelines) versus mandatory (legal) approaches to human rights responsibilities of companies – assessment of effectiveness
  • Due diligence models, standards and analyses of company’s commitment and compliance with human rights norms
  • Studies of transnational company’s guidelines for human rights and corporate social responsibilities. What works under which social, economic, and cultural conditions
  • Extra-territorial obligations – the human rights and business nexus
  • Organisational analyses of normative change in companies with references to human rights Human rights impact of supply chains
  • Human rights obligations of state-owned companies
  • Comparative analyses of National Plans of Action on Business and Human Rights
  • Comparative studies of standards and codes of conduct – effectiveness and impact of regulatory codes
  • Methodological challenges in research on human rights and business
  • Neo-liberalism and challenges for human rights
  • Urbanisation and human rights approaches to service delivery e.g sanitation, water, health, garbage disposal and environmental quality
  • The Right to the City and politics of accountability in urban development
  • Human rights and the challenge of urban informality e.g. slum areas, informal economy, extra-judicial killings/right to life and sustainable development
  • The global refugee crisis and implications for sustainable development



Published Nov. 26, 2009 1:53 PM - Last modified June 1, 2017 2:36 PM