A Global Fund for Social Protection

UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty and Human Rights to Make Case for a Minimum Floor of Social Protection at the Next UN General Assembly

The UN Brief interviewed Professor Olivier De Schutter to speak about his preliminary report on poverty in the EU, and the future of social protection.

Dr. De Schutter was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in March 2020, and took up his role in May 2020.

He will present his final report on poverty in the EU in June, at the next session of the Human Rights Council. In that report, he will explore what could be done to help the EU reach the targets it has set for itself in the fight against poverty: the EU most recently pledged to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty, who are today 92 million across the EU, by 15 million before 2030.

At the same session of the Human Rights Council, he will also discuss the proposal for the creation of a Global Fund for Social Protection. This proposal has the support of a number of UN country-members as well as the International Labour Organisation (ILO). It consists in a new international financing facility that would help close the financing gap that low-income countries face for the funding of social protection floors, which the ILO estimates to be about 78 billion USD (including 41 billion USD for healthcare), taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fund should also include a reinsurance mechanism, in order to allow countries to withstand economic, climatic or pandemic shocks, which put their social protection systems under stress, since in such cases, needs may increase at the same time that public revenues fall.

Next September, at the opening of the UN General Assembly, he will present a report providing a “reality check” of social protection, focusing on issues such as informal work, corruption in the delivery of social services, and the “non-take-up” of rights, all factors that explain the considerable gap between legal and effective coverage of social protection schemes. “Non-take-up” means that, because of a lack of information, because of shame or the fear of stigmatization, or because of past traumatizing experiences with social services, intended beneficiaries of social protection do not claim their rights. It is a phenomenon affecting social protection in all regions, and leads to this paradox: people in poverty are sometimes the least able to benefit from the social protection schemes that are meant to support them.

Watch Dr. De Schutter analysis of the current economic landscape in social protection schemes and fiscal dumping in Europe, which is primed for change and harmonization, and making the case for a global effort to support the economically vulnerable in our societies.

Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Dr. De Schutter was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights by the Human Rights Council at its 43rd session, in March 2020. A Professor of Law at UC Louvain and at SciencesPo (Paris), Dr. De Schutter is also a member of the Global Law School Faculty at New York University. He holds a LL.M. from Harvard University, a diploma cum laude from the International Institute of Human Rights (Strasbourg) and a Ph.D. in Law from UC Louvain. 

He has taught human rights at the University of Leicester (United Kingdom), at the College of Europe (2008-2016), at Columbia University (2008-2013) and Yale University (2016-2017). He was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley in 2013-2014, where he helped launch the Berkeley Food Institute. In 2013, he was awarded the prestigious Francqui Prize for his contribution to international human rights law and to the theory of governance.

A scholar on social and economic rights and on economic globalization and human rights, Dr. De Schutter served between 2004 and 2008 as a Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).  He was then appointed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, a mandate which he fulfilled between 2008 and 2014. He was elected a Member of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which he joined in 2015 and to which he was reelected in 2019. He resigned from that position in May 2020 in order to accept the mandate of Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. 

Dr. De Schutter has contributed actively to the strengthening of the protection of fundamental rights in the European Union, as well as to the debate on the relationship between the EU and the Council of Europe. Between 2002 and 2007, he was the coordinator of the EU Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights, a high-level group of experts from the then EU-25 Member States that provided advice to the European Commission and the European Parliament (LIBE Committee) on fundamental rights protection in the European Union. He also served as a member of the Scientific Committee of the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union (2013-2018). 

Dr. De Schutter has published widely on economic and social rights and on the relationship between human rights and development. He has also published extensively on transnational corporations and human rights. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of Human Rights / Journal européen des droits de l'homme

“The Covid-19 pandemic has show that social protection floors are a necessity if we want to eradicate poverty and to prepare for economic shocks caused by global disasters and sanitary crisis. In September 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights presented a thorough review of social protection measures adopted to address the impact of the COVID crisis, based on his mission to the European Union findings.

Since the start of the crisis over 1,400 social protection measures had been adopted by “some 208 countries and territories to support those affected”, he noted that these measures were often temporary, left out a number of groups (such as informal workers or migrants), and provided inadequate levels of protection. He, therefore, advocated for strengthening social protection floors from a rights-based perspective, arguing that "building social protection systems on the basis of human rights can significantly contribute to their effectiveness in eradicating poverty”. UN Human Rights Council

Press Conference at the Belgium Press Club, January 2021, on the mission to the EU conducted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.


Professor De Schutter was previously the UN Rapporteur for the Right to Food. He was interviewed by the director of the film addressing issues related to the global food crisis, Last Supper for Malthus, Klaus Pas, in 2009. If the subject of framing economic crisis and its social impacts on the human rights agenda is new to you this film is a good start.