Social Work Is a Human Rights Profession

Susan Mapp, Elizabethtown College
Jane McPherson, University of Georgia
David Androff, Arizona State University Downtown Phoenix Campus
Shirley Gatenio Gabel, Fordham University


As defined by the International Federation of Social Workers, social work is a human rights profession. This is explicitly stated in the professional codes of ethics in many nations. However, the most recent version of the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers continues to exclude any mention of human rights, fitting in with the history of U.S. exceptionalism on this subject. Social workers around the world have a long history of working for the achievement of human rights, including an explicit grounding of practice in human rights principles: Human dignity, nondiscrimination, participation, transparency, and accountability. Utilizing these principles, U.S. social workers can move from the deficit model of the needs-based approach to competently contextualizing individual issues in their larger human rights framework. In this way, social work can address larger social problems and make way for the concurrent achievement of human rights. This article explains these principles and provides a case example of how to apply them in practice.