Can Human Rights Create Productivity? An Empirical Study of the Effects of Social Human Rights on Labour Productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sarah Nadine Raida

Student thesis: Master thesis


For decades international organisations, corporates and governments have been creating initiatives to improve human rights. Although there has been great progress made in establishing basic and institutional human rights, social human rights and human development in the developing world are lagging behind developed economies. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the challenges to human development persist. The region is immensely challenged by poor human development and multidimensional poverty and performs below every other region on most measures of this. While only 44 countries in the world are still classified with low human development, 36 of these are located in Africa. The challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa suggests a need for further attention to how Africa will bridge the poverty gap and improve human development rights. In order to address this need, this paper aims to provide knowledge on the effect of social human rights on one important economic factor, productivity. This paper studies the effects of social human rights or human development on labour productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa by examining the specific effects of sanitation, health care and education. Utilising data from 1995 to 2014 from a variety of international data gathering institutions, the results of this paper show a positive significant correlation between human development rights and labour productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa. The results are robust to a variety of sensitivity tests. To uncover the underlying drivers of this effect, I analyse a Zambian case study on improvements in human rights on a firm-level. The results suggest that the positive effects of human rights on productivity may be driven by increases in employee motivation, attraction and retention of talent, quality of the labour pool and innovative capacity on a micro-level. The results of this study have important policy implications, as they suggest investment in human development could achieve growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. The conclusions from this study support increasing attention to human rights and suggests that this may be one way for Sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate growth and bridge the poverty gap. Although the study supports current theory and empirical results from other regions, it also raises questions regarding how other measures of human development affect productivity and how human rights affect not only labour productivity, but a variety of productivity factors. Additionally, this study implies a need to collect more data in Sub-Saharan Africa to assess and support the results of this study and to further the understanding of how and why the correlation between human rights and labour productivity occurs.

EducationsMSc in Applied Economics and Finance, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages118
SupervisorsDario Pozzoli