In pursuit of dignity

By Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden

When I think about human development, I often recall the speech that Nelson Mandela gave in 2005 at a rally to make poverty history. He said: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

When the first Human Development Report was published in 1990, the United Nations firmly set out precisely dignity and a decent life as essential to a broader meaning of human development. The Human Development Report challenged the Washington Consensus by putting human beings at the front and centre of development.

During the past 25 years, the world has produced landmark agreements on the rights of the child, women’s enjoyment of human rights and environmental protection. These commitments have translated into a dramatic decline in child mortality and higher school enrolment rates, especially for girls. Millions of people have been able to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

Nevertheless, I remain concerned about the future. The exploitation of children continues to inflict lifelong wounds on girls and boys. Gender equality is still a long way off. The human rights of women and girls are systematically violated. Our collective overexploitation of the world’s biodiversity continues. Greenhouse gases are rapidly approaching critical levels. Today, nearly 850 million people are suffering from hunger. And in far too many places, a decent job remains an illusion.

It’s high time to stand up for our ideals and to act in the name of justice. Our task is to create a peaceful and equitable world that respects planetary boundaries. We need decent work for all. We must combat gender inequality, child exploitation and hunger. We need to make the right to education a reality for all children, as we work to combat poverty and extremism. We know the tools we need: a robust multilateral system, social investments and unfaltering support for human rights. Now we need to muster the will – and the courage.

So let us establish a New York Consensus, to mark the birthplace of the Human Development Report, and a universal agenda for the right to dignity and a decent life. Nelson Mandela concluded his speech in 2005 with these words: “Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity.” I fully agree.


Stefan Löfven has been Prime Minister of Sweden since October 2014. Mr Löfven is a former welder and trade union leader. He is dedicated to promoting human and sustainable development through gender equality, education and decent jobs for all.