Social Charters

What is a Social Charter?

A social charter is a declaration of intent to hold a commons in trust for its beneficiaries. The creation of a social charter is an important step in setting up an effective commons trust to protect a community’s common resources.

Why is a Social Charter necessary?

Several legal frameworks exist for the protection of commons, including public domain law, public trust, human rights, and international treaties and conventions. However, these legal frameworks pertain mainly to the provision and allocation of public goods, thus requiring sovereign approval and oversight. Social charters stem from the tradition of customary or natural law, which means that they are created by the users and producers of a commons and are not dependent upon state consent.

What does a Social Charter do?

A social charter helps to operationalize the interests and practices of a local geographical group or broader association of stakeholders which manage a commons. It is a written framework which outlines the rights and incentives of a community for the management and protection of its common resources. The charter gives all users, managers and producers of a commons an opportunity to voice the expectations and responsibilities emerging from their rights to these common goods.

What are the key elements of a Social Charter?

Given the uniqueness of each commons, there is no universal template for social charters — but a practical baseline is emerging. A social charter for a particular commons would include 1. Vision and Mission Statement 2. Historical Claims

  • a description of the existing users, boundaries, power and control of a commons
  • a summary of traditional or emerging claims to legitimacy and responsibility for   preserving the common resource
  • a notice of claims to reparations or re-territorialization of resource boundaries

3. Rights to Fair Access and Use

  • a declaration of the users’ rights to organize and participate in the development of new institutions and rules
  • a statement of the entitlements and responsibilities of users, managers, and producers of the commons
  • a statement of equitably shared benefits, quality standards and safeguards
  • a code of ethics and common values

4. Resource Management

  • a quantifiable set of non-monetized metrics for measuring the common resource
  • a means of matching the rules of provision and appropriation to local conditions
  • a framework for democratic and transparent decision-making and participation
  • a structure of accountability for conflict resolution and redress of grievances
  • a process of monitoring and evaluation

What is unique about Social Charters?

• Social charters are based on commons rights. Commons rights differ from human rights and civil rights because they arise, not through the legislation of a state, but through a customary or emerging identification with an ecology, a cultural resource area, a social need, or a form of collective labor. Commons rights affirm the sovereignty of human beings over their means of sustenance and well-being. • Social charters generate an entirely new context for collective action. Instead of seeking individual and human rights from the State, people may claim long-term authority over resources, governance and social value as their planetary birthrights — whether at a community or global level.

Shouldn’t Government create a Social Charter?

We define social charters in terms of commons rights. While many governments have created their own ‘social charters’, state involvement usually delimits the participation of the people of a commons which is needed for the creation of effective commons trusts. For example, some states (Ecuador and Bolivia) have put provisions for natural preservation and social development directly into their national constitutions, giving ecosystems and species their own legally enforceable rights to exist and flourish. This may demonstrate an earnest intention on the part of the state — but it also exposes the legal standing of a commons directly to judicial challenges by powerful commercial interests. Many regional blocs have also developed social charters on behalf of their national citizens (the European Union, South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation, ASEAN and South America, for example), yet these are typically generated by clusters of individual governments in consultation with a narrow cross-section of interest groups. Social charters generated by states often disempower those who use and manage a local commons. State-written social charters put the locus of power in government and function more as a complaint mechanism or quality control procedure than as a means of honoring the rights of people to their commons.

Should the people of a commons create their own Social Charters?

Yes. People who use and manage a commons need covenants and institutions that are not state-managed to negotiate the protection and sustenance of their resources. This ensures that the mutual interests of all stakeholders are directly represented.

Who are the stakeholders of a Social Charter?

Democratic and transparent decision-making for the maintenance and preservation of a particular commons should be developed through the collective action of citizens, customary representatives, social networks, academics, scientists, bilateral donors, development partners, regional organizers, intergovernmental organizations, independent media and other stakeholders — with limited input from national governments and the private sector. The people who create a social charter thus ensure that administrative power is decentralized in order to maintain community access to — and sovereignty over — their own commons.

How would a resource community set up a Social Charter?

  • members of a commons set up a task force to formulate a charter for the common goods they wish to protect, manage or create
  • they identify the stakeholders of this commons and the services it provides
  • a core group of stakeholders is appointed to create and approve the social charter
  • the core group consults with all stakeholders
  • a draft is prepared
  • the draft is circulated for comments
  • stakeholder suggestions are used to modify the draft
  • the draft is submitted to all stakeholders for approval
  • the approved social charter enables the creation of an effective commons trust

Would the adoption of Social Charters change the role of Government?

Yes. Through the assertion of people’s inherent rights to their common goods, the role of the state would become much more balanced between enabling the corporate sector and enabling the people of the commons. Instead of regulating commerce and finance in the public interest (while also regulating the commons for the benefit of commerce and finance), the new duty of the state would be to confirm the declarations of the rights of people to their commons, allowing them to manage their own resources by recognizing and upholding their social charters.

What are some examples of commons-based Social Charters?

• WANA Forum (West Asia – North Africa) • Charter of the Culture Forum of Barcelona for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge • Praja Foundation, Mumbai • Pacific Youth Charter • People’s Charter for Health / People’s Health Assembly