Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Human Right to Leisure

Editors Note:  On this Labor Day we decided to revisit Martha Davis' 2014 post on the right to leisure.

Don't begrudge President Obama a few days of vacation and a couple of rounds of golf this August.  According to Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay."  Or, as Youth for Human Rights calls it, the "human right to play."

But though the "right to leisure" gets its own Article in the UDHR, it doesn't get much respect.  The academic literature on the Right to Leisure is sparse at best.  And in one recent article, "Worth What We Decide: A Defense of the Right to Leisure," the authors call the right "one of the most routinely philosophically and politically attacked sections" of the UDHR.  In fact, they note that ratification of the Children's Rights Convention has been held up in the U.S. in part because of the treaty's recognition of children's right to play.

Why are Americans, in particular, so touchy about leisure?  According to recent reports, most Americans leave half of their vacation days untouched, and 15 percent skip vacation entirely.  Among those who do take a break, more than half keep in contact with the office and do some work in between those rounds of golf.  In contrast, U.K. workers get an average of 25 paid vacation days per year (compared to 14 for the U.S.) and take all of them.  French workers clock in with an average of 30 paid vacation days, and report that they need more (perhaps because 93 percent of them take their blackberries to the beach)!

There is one group, however, that takes its leisure very seriously: the World Leisure Organization. Founded in 1952, the WLO is a "world-wide, non-governmental association of persons and organizations dedicated to discovering and fostering those conditions best permitting leisure to serve as a force for human growth, development & well-being."  Justly proud of leisure's status under the UDHR, the WLO has convened a number of international Congresses, several of which have issued formal declarations so serious and unplayful that they might be mistaken for diplomatic efforts. 

The fundamental document of the WLO is the World Charter for Leisure, which incorporates the UNDR provision.  The Sao Paulo Declaration of 1988 builds on the Charter, addressing "Leisure in a Globalized Society" and calling on governments to ensure that leisure is broadly available to all.  The Quebec Declaration of 2008 links leisure to community development, noting that "it affects the well-being of individuals, contributes to the development of social ties and social capital, and represents a place for expression and engagement in democratic life." 

In 2013, responding to pressure from the WLO and the International Play Association (IPA), the Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a General Comment addressing, among other things, children's right to leisure and play.  Noting that the right to play was articulated by the international community as early as 1959, the CERD Committee characterized it as poorly recognized by State Parties ot the Convention.  The General Comment spells out more specific expectations in terms of children's access to play,

So save your guilt, reject American exceptionalism and this year, claim your full share of leisure!

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