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All human, all equal

In observance of Human Rights Day, we look at how we are working to reduce inequalities and advance human rights through our publishing, support for learners and approach to contributing to a sustainable future for all.

colourful illustration of a diverse group of people

Observed every year on 10 December, Human Rights Day commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

human rights noun 

the basic rights that it is generally considered all people should have, such as justice and the freedom to say what you think 

The Cambridge Dictionary 

The Universal Declaration was drafted across two years in consultation with leaders from around the world. In the immediate aftermath of the horrors of World War II, representatives of 50 member states helped to shape the Declaration led by a Commission on Human Rights tasked with agreeing a set of universal rights for all people, regardless of who they are or where they live in the world. 

Reducing inequalities  

The principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights, and this year’s Human Rights Day theme is about reducing inequalities. It focuses on Article 1 of the Declaration – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” 

The theme is aligned with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which sets out a 15-year plan to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all UN Member States in 2015. We are a proud signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) — the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, which aims to drive business awareness and action in support of achieving the SDGs by 2030.  

Catie Sheret, general counsel at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, said: “We are conscious, as a global organisation, of our responsibilities to people across the world: our colleagues, our learners, the teachers and researchers we support, as well as everyone in our supply chain. Advancing human rights and empowering others to support us in our mission, is a core part of our approach to contributing to a sustainable future for all. We aim to do this through how we go about our work as well as through the learning materials, academic books and articles and services we offer that enhance global understanding of human rights.”

Education’s role in achieving sustainable change 

As an organisation, we believe education is the most powerful long-term solution to poverty, conflict and many of the issues facing the world today. This sentiment is reflected in everything we do to advance our shared mission with the University of Cambridge: “To contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence”. 

We recognise the importance of students developing attitudes and life skills such as collaboration, respect and responsibility in order to be successful global citizens. These Cambridge Learner attributes are embedded across our qualifications and assessments.  

Ashley Small, group manager, social science and practical for our international exam board said: “At a subject level, we focus on the importance of the ideas and concepts of human rights. Cambridge Global Perspectives gives our learners aged 5 to 19 years the opportunity to explore global issues such as human rights, social justice, inequality and sustainable living from a range of different viewpoints. The innovative programme is stimulating and skills-based, placing academic study in a practical, real-world context.” 

Ashley added: “Cambridge Global Perspectives helps learners develop the tools to question, reflect on, and unpick practices and assumptions that contribute to inequality and exclusion. And learners get practical opportunities to take action and solve problems in their local community. It’s always amazing to see the enthusiasm that our students have for making a difference. The realisation that through research, collaboration and organisation they can actually create meaningful change is one of the most important things they develop on the course.” 

The right to education is Article 26 of the Universal Declaration, yet not every child gets the quality of education every child deserves. High ambitions for the improvement of education systems are captured in Sustainable Development Goal 4. It puts inclusive, equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all at the top of the agenda to be achieved by 2030.  

A key way we’re reducing inequalities in education is through the work of the Cambridge Partnership for Education team. Partnering with governments, ministries of education and international development organisations, we are helping to develop quality, public education systems around the world so more people can have a high-quality education. 

In 2019, our partnerships team started working with UNICEF to support teaching and learning in the Rohingya refugee camps of Bangladesh, where the education of 614,000 young people has been critically disrupted due to displacement. The objective of the partnership was to provide a coherent model for educating Rohingya 4 to18-year-olds within the camps, while also laying foundations for their future reintegration into a national education system.  

This case study details how we have been able to use our wide-ranging research in the Rohingya community to produce a comprehensive Programme Document, which defines the next steps in converting the findings into an actionable response plan. Our knowledge and expertise have informed the programme and the development of essential pedagogical tools and materials that have been specially tailored and produced to meet educational, cultural, and practical needs, to build a solid, comprehensive and robust educational system. This partnership project encapsulates our vision of the future – where generations of both teachers and students will learn and excel, providing a platform for hope and aspiration in educational excellence. 

Girl at Rohingya refugee camp
Girl at Rohingya refugee camp


In Romania, the World Bank and the Romanian Ministry of Education have worked together to develop an early warning mechanism to address early school leaving. Their recovery plan centres on developing the teaching workforce.  

The University of Cambridge Faculty of Education and our Cambridge Partnership for Education team collaborated with the World Bank in Romania and colleagues at the University of Bucharest to promote the upskilling of teachers’ pedagogical knowledge. This work has brought together policy direction, research evidence and practice experience of implementing teacher development programmes. By supporting teachers and encouraging participation in pedagogical development, the results of this partnership have helped with addressing the issue of early school leaving in Romania, and highlights how, through education, we can work towards sustainable change.  

Spreading knowledge and aiding understanding  

Some of the inequalities in people’s experience of human rights – and potential solutions – are explored in a special collection of publications to mark Human Rights Day. The book chapters and journal articles complied by our Academic publishing colleagues are available to read for free in December. 

Scholarly articles include in the treatment of disabled people, in child welfare, and even in the use of AI in humanitarian efforts. The articles are themed around diversity, equity and social justice; human rights and health, including the Covid-19 pandemic; human rights in industry; and human rights and the environment.  

Inequalities in mental health services, for people living across Gaza and the West Bank, and for refugees are the focus of book chapters in the collection, along with new books such as Decolonizing Human Rights which argues that moving to a people-centric approach to human rights would empower individuals to decide how these rights will be understood and integrated into their communities. 

...human dignity and a healthy environment are indivisible rights essential to the three dimensions of sustainability – environmental, social, and economic.  

The Cambridge Handbook of Environmental Justice and Sustainable Development 

Human rights and environmental in/justice, and the social side of sustainability, is the focus of a new book we published earlier this year, The Cambridge Handbook of Environmental Justice and Sustainable Development. UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, Mary Robinson, a former UN High, Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “Given the challenge we face of responding effectively to the climate crisis, this book helps us to link legal frameworks and the struggles of social movements. It encourages us to deepen the relationship between climate justice, sustainable development and human rights in order to make the radical, systemic change that will ensure a sustainable future for all.” Chapter 2, about how human dignity is indivisible from sustainability is available to read during December. 

Our sustainability journey 

We support the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights across our strategy and operations as part of our commitment to the UN Global Compact. 

The first two principles of the 10 in the UN Global Compact are about human rights. Number one is “Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights” and number two is “Businesses should make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.” These are derived from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  

One of the most effective ways for us to contribute to global improvements in human rights is to seek to improve practice across our supply chain and through our business approach. Our Legal and Business Affairs team take a proactive stance to upholding global human rights and, in a new blog, the team explore the role of the corporate legal sector in transitioning to a fairer society for all

Catie Sheret said: “By aligning our work across our organisation to increase knowledge and understanding of sustainability issues and developing curriculums, publishing research, educational materials and programmes and delivering assessments with the UNGC’s sustainability principles and the SDGs in mind, we recognise that we can be an even more effective agent for global change.” 

Read more about our commitment to making a sustainable impact. 

For English language learners and those looking to expand their vocabulary, this new Cambridge Dictionary About Words blog for Human Rights Day looks at the way the noun ‘right’ is used and the words that often come with it. 

Get involved with Human Rights Day 2021 on social media by using #AllHumanAllEqual and #StandUp4HumanRights