Over the years international nutrition activists have increasingly acknowledged access to adequate food, health, and nutritional care as essential human rights embedded in international human rights laws.
The right to adequate food was first recognised as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which states that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family, including access to food…”. This right eventually became legally binding, making it possible to define access to sufficient nutritional care as a basic human right.
The respect for human dignity is understood as the right of a person to be treated ethically and to be valued and respected for their own sake. By this definition, the absence of optimal nutritional care can constitute an offence against human dignity.
The centrality of human rights in health issues is recognised in multiple public health policies, programmes and practices, with increasing evidence demonstrating that norms enshrining the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights can translate into improved nutrition and public health.
If states and relevant stakeholders would take an explicit human rights approach to adequate access to food, health, and nutrition, it would likely help alleviate the double burden of malnutrition.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI2020) report, launched on 13 July 2020, found that in 2019, nearly one in 10 people, or around 740 million, were food insecure, with two billion people without regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.
The SOFI2020 report also estimated that the Covid-19 pandemic would add 83 to 132 million people to the total number of undernourished people in the world in 2020, depending on the economic crisis scenario.
The urgent case for action has never been clearer. With government, civil society, farmers and other stakeholders playing a key role in supporting access to diets that are nutritious, safe, healthy, sustainable and —most importantly, as outlined by this report — affordable to all people.
To this end, we at Unilever have committed to working with governments, NGOs, retailers and other manufacturers to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to eliminate hunger and to promote health and wellbeing across the world.
Fixing our broken food system and providing sustainable foods for all while continually working to improve the taste and nutritional quality of our products are some of our goals.
While the UN’s SDGs hold great potential, their collective success depends on a number of institutional factors such as the extent to which states formalise their commitments, strengthen related global governance arrangements, translate the global ambitions into national contexts, and integrate sectoral policies.
As the impacts of Covid-19 begin to take their toll on human health and wellbeing around the world, the need to produce and ensure access to healthy nutritious food for all can no longer be overlooked, in order to avoid what could be the worst food crisis in modern history.
Biermann, F., Kanie, N. and Kim, R.E., 2017. Global governance by goal-setting: the novel approach of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 26, pp.26-31.
Cardenas, D., Bermudez, C. and Echeverri, S., 2019. Is nutritional care a human right?. Clinical Nutrition Experimental, 26, pp.1-7.
Eide, W.B., 2002. Nutrition and Human Rights − Brief 10 of 12. Nutrition: a foundation for development, p.34.
FAO, I. and UNICEF, WFP and WHO (2020). The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. Rome, FAO.