Information Note #15: Inequality, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the COVID-19 Response
03 November 2021
The pandemic is laying bare inequalities in Cambodia - inequalities in income, health and education. Many low-income households are going into debt. Preliminary findings based on the United Nations internal study suggest that debt has been used to cope with their daily economic, health and livelihood needs. Vulnerability and income inequality in Cambodia have been exacerbated by COVID-19, further highlighting the limits of looking at the growth of the Gross Domestic Product as a sign of overall prosperity and people’s well-being.
For the United Nations system in Cambodia, addressing these inequalities requires a human rights economy that invests in people in general and in particular in livelihoods, workplace, social security, family life, participation in cultural life. This includes the need to ensure access to housing, food, water, health care, and education — collectively known as economic, social and cultural rights.
The vision and promise of the United Nations in Cambodia are that all human rights belong to all people irrespective of income. Addressing inequality is the UN’s driving force for more social justice, labour rights, and gender representation. It is also a key objective of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, which reiterates the urgency of placing human rights at the centre of sustainable development.
In close collaboration with the Royal Government of Cambodia, the United Nations has worked towards reducing inequalities and protecting economic, social and cultural rights:
- To help authorities ensure the Right to Health, the United Nations supports the Ministry of Health and beyond to provide essential health services and facilitate accessibility for all Cambodians, including maternal and child health, immunization services, mental health and psychosocial support. The United Nations supported HIV prevention services and continuously expanded the monthly dispensing of antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV. The United Nations also reached over 8 million social media users to identify health disinformation and published a manual for journalists to address disinformation. For more information see Info Note #14 on Health.
- To help the Government fulfil its obligation to the Right to Education, the United Nations in Cambodia collaborated with authorities on inclusive distance learning materials for 3.2 million children. Nationwide, the United Nations distributed US$4.2 million to primary and lower secondary schools to meet additional costs in the context of COVID-19. The United Nations is preparing to help bringing all children back to school, helping students catch up on lost learning and supporting teachers to address learning losses and incorporate digital technology into their teaching. For more information see Info Note #10 on Education.
- About 88.3 per cent of the Cambodian labour market operates in the informal economy, and most of these workers cannot count on access to health care or income security. This limited or unequal access to social protection schemes impacts efforts to reduce poverty and inequality. The United Nations is working with the Government on the Right to Social Security. We are helping the National Social Protection Council to ensure the most vulnerable workers and their families are included into both the contributory and non-contributory social protection system. The United Nations in Cambodia has helped expand social assistance to poor and vulnerable women and children, the elderly and persons with disabilities, and persons living with HIV. A new national disability identification mechanism resulted in the identification of more than 200,000 persons with disabilities eligible for social care and other services. For more information see Info Note #3 on social assistance and Info Note #7 on garment workers.
- The labour movement has a proud history of fighting inequality and working for the rights and dignity of all. In Cambodia, minimum wage is still limited to the garment, footwear and travel goods and bags sector. The United Nations advocates for Rights at Work by supporting institutions such as the National Council on Minimum Wage where social dialogue between trade unions and employers occurs. The United Nations helped the Government adopt a Policy on Labour Migration for Cambodia. We provided direct assistance to more than 75,000 migrant workers, including to access labour migration information and individualised support services. For more information see Info Note #8 on assisting migrant workers.
- To help the Government fulfil its obligation to the Right to Adequate Housing, the United Nations in Cambodia developed national guidelines on resettlement. If accepted, they would help authorities to provide a human rights based solution to forced evictions, including remedy, in line with international human rights norms and standards. The United Nations also developed and shared a discussion paper on simplifying the communal land titling process with the Government. Since the pandemic started, 56 indigenous families have been supported in their efforts to submit their claims to communal land titles.
- To promote the Right to Participate in Cultural Life, the UN supports the to prepare for the protection and maintenance of UNESCO World Heritage sites, practitioners and protectors of the Living Heritage, UNESCO Creative Cities Network, and creative sectors.
Cambodia has signed and ratified a number of human rights protocols and conventions, its legal framework is well grounded on its national Constitution to take all possible legal, policy and institutional measures to achieve these rights. The Royal Government of Cambodia is to guarantee the economic, social and cultural rights to everyone, leaving no one behind – the key promise made under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Cambodian people want and deserve social and economic systems that work for them. They want their human rights and fundamental freedoms to be respected at all times and have a say in decisions that affect their lives. The United Nations stands ready to support the Royal Government of Cambodia to create a new social contract that creates equal opportunities for all and respect the rights and freedoms of all, by:
- Investing in health and public health infrastructure to promote health equity, strengthen public health services and attain universal health coverage.
- Promoting a gender-sensitive, human rights based and inclusive social protection system addressed to the population who have become poor and marginalised due to the pandemic.
- Advocating for a sustainable and human rights based economic recovery package to address inequalities, generate employment and revitalise the public sector.
- Providing support for expanding the Government’s fiscal space to increase development investments to fulfil people’s needs through creating innovative & green financing tools.
- Providing technical assistance towards a progressive pro-poor tax system.
- Facilitating access to affordable credit for citizens to make the right investments and overcome challenges.
- Improving the legislation for an effective protection of property tenure and impose conditions in which evictions may be carried out.
UN Cambodia’s Response to COVID-19 Information Notes are official documents from the United Nations in Cambodia intended for the media and other partners. They are prepared by the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator.
 ILO calculation based on Cambodia Labour Force Survey 2019