The Right to Food
posted by Dave Hoffman
[Another dispatch from Rome.]
Yesterday, we visited the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), based near the Circus Maximus. The FAO’s legal staff was gracious enough to give Temple’s students and faculty a presentation on their work, along with tips on how to get into international legal work.
The presentation and idea I found most interesting was the FAO’s advocacy on behalf of the (so-called) human right to food. The FAO (and the considerable scholarship on this topic) derive the right largely from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), particularly Article 11:
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 . . .
2. The States Parties to the present Covenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international co-operation, the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed:
In response to a student question, the FAO’s lawyers acknowledged that this right is not presently internationally justiciable. Instead, in the words of the FAO’s strategic plan, advocates for the right should “support initial national implementation of the right to food and the Guidelines.”
This bootstrapping strategy is common, I think, in campaigns to advance international human rights norms. And it may succeed, at least in some jurisdictions. But it struck me that the ICESCR is an awfully thin read to found a political program as vast as the right to food. Why not similarly push the right to clothing? Now I know that there are other documents doing work – like the 1996 Rome Declaration - but the rhetoric here is simply not commensurate with the founding text. I’ve only begin to look at this topic, but it seems a bit like advocates for the legal status of a right against hunger believe that oft-repeated slogan “The right to food is a human right!” has its own normative force.
Are there particularly thoughtful articles I could read that trace the development of this campaign, and which ground it in something other than a natural rights tradition?