Private debt and human rights: report

3 January 2020
Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights
To the HRC at its 43rd session


In many countries of the world, private debt is growing fast, including not only business debt, but also consumer debt such as student loans, medical debt, micro debt, housing debt, and credit card debt. Such growth of private debt is not only a microeconomic concern, but also a macroeconomic issue.

Furthermore, private debt raises a number of concerns from a human rights perspective. It has come to the attention of the Independent Expert that private debt entraps many people in a cycle of debt and poverty, as they struggle to make loan repayments and to afford their basic needs, such as food, water, housing and electricity.

The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, prepared a thematic report to the Human Rights Council on private debt and human rights.


The purpose of this report is to assist in understanding – and also to unravel, denounce and offer recommendations to tackle – human rights violations in the context of private debt, focusing specifically on individual and household debt offered by a range of lending actors, whether operating in formal or informal settings.

There are two drivers of the rising private indebtedness: first, the flourishing supply side of finance, with deregulation and increasing financialisation being its facilitating instruments; second, the reconfiguration of many human needs for social reproduction that become unmet financial needs paralleled by a colossal failure of the State to ensure economic, social and cultural rights for all.

The Independent Expert studies the negative human rights implications of microcredit, health, education and housing-related debts, abusive collection practices, including the criminalisation of debtors, consumers and migration-related debts, and debt bondage. Private debt can be both a cause and a consequence of human rights violations.

Inputs received

The Independent Expert invited all interested governments, civil society organisations, academic, experts, businesses, and other stakeholders to provide inputs for his next report.

The Independent Expert was particularly interested in receiving case studies, information on theoretical developments, analysis and comments on general trends, or on one or more of the following issues:

  1. What human rights concerns might arise in connection with private debt, which includes, but is not limited to:
      • a) Mortgage loans;
        b) Student loans;
        c) Debt arising from out-of-pocket medical costs;
        d) Debt arising from fines and fees charged by State and local governments;
        e) Unpaid utility bills;
        f) Credit card debt; and
        g) Microfinance debt.
  2. What are the implications of private debt on macroeconomic conditions and public debt? How does it affect States’ obligation to use maximum available resources to progressively realise human rights?
  3. What is the impact of private debt on the enjoyment of human rights by specific groups such as women, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, minorities, LGBTI and other groups specially protected under international human rights law?
  4. What are the consumer protection, monetary, financial, banking and bankruptcy practices and regulations that govern and should govern private debt, in order to ensure the effective protection of human rights?



Civil Society