European Committee of Social Rights

What is the European Committee of Social Rights?

The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) was created by Article 25 of the European Social Charter to monitor States’ compliance with the rights contained in the Charter.

The European Social Charter spells out the social and economic rights that State Parties to the Charter must guarantee for people living within their jurisdiction.

The Charter, which was adopted in 1961, revised in 1996 and amended by three additional protocols, has been signed by all 47 Members of the Council of Europe. It complements the European Convention on Human Rights which focuses on civil and political rights and is monitored by the European Court on Human Rights.

States must have accepted at least six ‘hard core’ provisions of the Charter; these are: Articles 1, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 16, 19 and 20. They must also agree to be bound by a number of other articles or numbered paragraphs which they may select. The total number of articles may not be less than 16; the total number of numbered paragraph may not be less than 63.

Both the European Committee of Social Rights and the European Court of Human Rights report to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The European Committee of Social Rights is made up of 15 independent experts who are elected by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers for a period of six years. Mandate holders may be re-elected once.

What does the ECSR do?

Children’s rights and the European Social Charter

Some of the rights contained in the Charter specifically relate to children, and others have particular relevance to children as family members. The special provisions are:

  • protection before birth through rights for pregnant women (articles 8, 11)
  • rights of the family (articles 16, 27, 31)
  • legal status of the child (article 17)
  • rights of children in conflict with the law (article 17)
  • health provision (article 11)
  • special protection of children from violence, abuse and sexual exploitation, as well as protection for children without parental care (articles 17, 7)
  • right to education (articles 10, 15, 17)
  • prohibition of child labour (articles 7, 1)
  • working conditions for children aged 15-18 (article 7)
  • rights of migrant children (article 19)

See the CoE’s factsheet on children’s rights under the European Social Charter for more.

How does the Committee monitor compliance with the European Social Charter?

The Committee monitors how States are implementing the Charter through a State reporting system and a collective complaints system.

The State reporting system

The Committee has devised a reporting procedure for State Parties to the Charter. These reporting guidelines set out actions needed to bring national legislation in line with the Charter.

State Parties to the Charter will report to the Committee every year (on October 31) on one of the four sets of thematic provisions of the Charter. In this way, each State will report on each set of provisions once every four years. The groupings are:

  1. Employment, training and equal opportunities: articles 1, 9, 10, 15, 18, 20, 24, 25
  2. Health, social security and social protection: articles 3, 11, 12, 13, 14, 23, 30
  3. Labour rights: articles 2, 4, 5, 6, 21, 26, 28, 29
  4. Children, families, migrants: articles 7, 8, 16, 17, 19, 27, 31

Read the national reports on the Council of Europe website.

When the Committee examines State reports, it issues ‘conclusions’ about a State’s compliance with the Charter. These conclusions are available on the European Social Charter database, and are similar to concluding observations issued by UN treaty bodies (see our UN guide).

‘Alternative’ reports

International NGOs with participatory status of the Council of Europe and national trade unions can submit information. The procedure for obtaining participatory status is set out in the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ under resolution Res(2003)8.

State Parties are requested to forward a copy of their report to invited national organisations that are members of the international organisations of employers and trade unions, under Article 27, paragraph 2, to be represented at meetings of the Governmental Committee. See more on the State reporting procedure.

Is there any follow up to the Committee’s conclusions?

A Governmental Committee, which is composed of representatives of State Parties, considers questions of non-compliance in the months that follow the publication of conclusions.

If the Committee feels that there is no intention to remedy a violation, it can issue a recommendation to the State concerned through the Committee of Ministers, requesting that it take appropriate measures to do so.

The Governmental Committee publishes an annual report on the European Social Charter which it presents to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The collective complaints system

Complaints of human rights violations may be submitted to the European Committee of Social Rights under the additional protocol for a collective complaints procedure, which came into force in 1998, if the State has recognised this power.

States can also recognise the right for national NGOs to lodge collective complaints, though only Finland has done so to date.

The majority of collective complaints of breaches of children’s rights relate to States’ failure to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings under article 17 of the Charter. Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Italy, Ireland and France have all had complaints made against them for this reason. Other cases include the lack of educational provisions made for children with special needs in Bulgaria and France, and the failure to ensure medical care for all children in France.

How does the complaints procedure work?

The Committee examines the complaint and, if it meets certain criteria, will declare it ‘admissible’. Written responses are then exchanged between the State and complainant. The Committee may also decide to hold a hearing. 

The Committee then takes a decision on the merits of the complaint, which it passes on to the parties concerned and to the Committee of Ministers in a report, which is made public within four months of being submitted.

Finally, the Committee of Ministers adopts a resolution. In some cases it may recommend that the State concerned take specific measures to bring the situation into line with the requirements of the European Social Charter.