Is there a human right to microfinance?

Tom Sorell

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Is Muhammad Yunus justified in claiming that there is a human right to credit, in particular microcredit? I shall approach the question by examining an argument that might be constructed to support his claim: (1) Extreme poverty is a human rights violation (2) Microcredit is an effective way of alleviating extreme poverty (3) There are bearers of the duty to alleviate extreme poverty (4) The duty-bearers are able to introduce microcredit schemes Therefore, from (2), (3) and (4): (5) The duty-bearers ought to introduce microcredit schemes Part of the attraction of the argument is that it connects the urgency of the need to respond to poverty with the widely recognized authority of human rights both as a concept and as an international institutional machinery. Failure to respect human rights is widely thought to be morally wrong, and if the argument about credit works, then extra force is added to requests for any sort of financial help from the poor. Extra force should be added to requests for help from the poor, especially the poorest in the world. The argument for a human right to credit, however, does not readily cohere with other sound human rights arguments. On the contrary, it is questionable from start to finish. Because of indeterminacy in the relative legal and moral content of the concept of a human right, it is debatable whether extreme poverty is always and everywhere a human rights violation, as opposed to an injustice more generally. Furthermore, microcredit is not necessarily an effective or morally proportionate way of alleviating extreme poverty; and human rights duty-bearers recognized by international human rights law and emerging policy do not include most existing microfinance providers. My criticism of the argument for a human right to microcredit is compatible with saying that microcredit can help poor people who are not extremely poor; and it is compatible with saying that agents who have duties corresponding to human rights should support microcredit.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMicrofinance, Rights and Global Justice
EditorsTom Sorell, Luis Cabrera
Place of PublicationCambridge UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781316275634
ISBN (Print)9781107110977
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

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