Economic and Social Rights: The Role of Courts in China

24 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2010

See all articles by Randall Peerenboom

Randall Peerenboom

La Trobe University - Faculty of Law and Management; Oxford University - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

Date Written: October 17, 2010


Compared to the average lower-middle income country, China has done relatively well on most social and economic indicators. Chinese courts however have generally played a limited, and rather ineffectual, role in implementing economic and social rights (ESR). The UN Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has strongly urged China to make greater use of the courts in implementing ESR. This article considers what the role of the courts could and should be in implementing ESR in China. Part I surveys recent global developments giving greater bite to economic and social rights, as well as some of the main controversies, debates, and approaches to promoting, protecting and fulfilling ESR, with particular attention to the role of the courts. Part II provides a general introduction to the social, legal, political and economic context in China, and contrasts the situation in China with South Africa, one of the global leaders in judicial implementation of ESR. The overall environment in China is if not hostile, at least not promising, for a robust role for the courts in protecting ESR. Nevertheless, there is still some room for the courts to play a positive role in implementing ESR. Part III provides policy recommendations regarding the way forward. Part IV concludes.

Keywords: Human rights, development, economic and social rights, judiciary

Suggested Citation

Peerenboom, Randall, Economic and Social Rights: The Role of Courts in China (October 17, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Randall Peerenboom (Contact Author)

La Trobe University - Faculty of Law and Management ( email )

Department of Economics and Finance
Victoria 3552, 3086

Oxford University - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

St. Cross Building
St. Cross Road
Oxford, OX1 3UJ
United Kingdom

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