Last Saturday marked the 75th anniversary of Human Rights Day, in which countries all over the world celebrate the international recognition of universal civil, political and social rights. These types of humanitarian issues are rarely far from our minds, with news stories broadcasting struggles in Iran, Asylum seekers and abortion in the US. The stories leaked about this year’s World Cup host country Qatar have further reiterated the importance of protecting civil liberties. 

While we acknowledge its seriousness, there is a degree of detachment, as these types of issues appear to affect faraway countries with unstable governments or religious strife. However, human rights are linked to everything we do; from our homes, our families, and our education to name a few. With the 2022 theme for Human Rights Day being, dignity, freedom and justice for all, at Yellow Cat, we see this as an important opportunity to examine these themes in the workplace.  

Historical Context

To understand its significance, we must analyse the historical context of the Universal Declaration of Human rights.

In the late 1940s, the barbarity of the second world war loomed over the world, which triggered international leaders to create the United Nation to solidify friendly relations. In 1948, the organization adopted the Universal Declaration of Human rights which was aimed at uniting the countries in a common humanitarian goal. Each UN representative had a different cultural and social background, yet the declarations emphasized the rights that all humans are entitled to regardless of race, religion, class etc. Those countries that signed had an obligation to protect individuals and groups, while positively enforcing the respect of human rights. The agreement had significance in being the basis for over 70 more human rights treaties and being the most translated document in the world.

Many countries have used the 1948 agreement as a foundation for legally binding acts. For example, The UK Human Rights Act passed in 1998 is enforceable and therefore if broken punishable by law.

‘Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.’

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958

The human rights covered in the 1948 act are vast and all-encompassing, focusing on areas such as socialhealth and education. The document’s emphasis on the rights of employees is particularly significant as it set the standards, we all expect in the contemporary workplace. For example, part of Article 23 advocated equal pay without discrimination. While Article 24 focused on the right all employees have to rest and leisure with pay. As previously mentioned, these acts were guidelines rather than laws, demonstrated by the continuing struggle of women to close the gender pay gap. Other parts of the declaration related to privacy and the notion that your personal life shouldn’t be used against you in the workplace. Therefore, an employer who discriminates against a gay workers based on their sexuality is violating their right to a private life. 

Despite this act being passed over 70 years ago, it still resonates with modern-day employees. The 1948 declaration was the bare bones of what should be done to protect the rights of employees. This can be linked to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (see image below), as these rights protect our basic needs of survival and safety.

For example, they have non-dangerous working conditions and get paid a fair salary. However, in this competitive market, employers are being pushed to do more to attract and retain the best candidates. Perks are introduced to try and ensure other needs are being met such as belonging and importance. This could be a bonus scheme, gym membership or team trips. Often these company benefits are not monetary but focus on promoting accomplishment, trust and friendship which leads to higher employee engagement. The ultimate goal is for employees to reach self-actualization in which all needs are met and full potential is achieved. More needs to be done, as statistically, only 15% of the workforce feel they reach this level.

Overall, we cannot underestimate the significance of The Universal Human Rights Act of 1948 to every single one of us. The non-discriminatory nature of the language and the scope of its reach have framed our modern-day notion of rights in the workplace. Yet, the protection of basic rights is no longer enough as employees we expect more. Companies must continue to push the boundaries further to guarantee their workforce is happy, appreciated and productive. 

Written by Lucy Russell.


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