Poverty and Inequality

We live in a staggeringly unequal world. According to the 2018 World Inequality Report, the richest 1 percent of humanity reaped more than twice as large a share of global income between 1980 and 2016 as the bottom 50 percent combined. Oxfam reports that 82% of all wealth created in 2017 alone went to the top 1% of the world’s population, while none went to the bottom 50%. In the shadow of this skewed wealth accumulation, nearly 700 million people live in extreme poverty. That figure more than doubles when multidimensional measures of poverty are used, capturing not only lack of income and wealth, but deprivation of a range of rights, from access to food, to schooling, housing and health care.

Economic inequality, meanwhile, is by no means the only form of disparity that affects human rights. Multiple forms of inequality that frequently map onto gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and ability, interact to deprive people of enjoyment of their social, economic, civil, and political rights. As the bedrock principles of human rights, equality and non-discrimination have long been at the center of human rights research and advocacy, and conceptions of states’ minimum core obligations under human rights law have focused debates around poverty on absolute floors in the provision of basic rights. As a result, there exists a robust literature examining poverty as both a cause and consequence of human rights violations, and ample analysis of the relationship between various forms of status-base discrimination, the resultant inequalities, and human rights. But there is less understanding of how human rights law relates to the types of extreme economic inequality and relative deprivation we are witnessing today.

Current Projects

CHRGJ pushes the bounds of human rights research, scholarship, and advocacy to grapple more meaningfully with these questions. CHRGJ’s Human Rights and Privatization Project works to examine how the privatization of essential sectors and services affects the realization of human rights, particularly for low-income people. The project engages in research, advocacy, and education, in dialogue with human rights practitioners and experts from different disciplines. It builds on the work of Philip Alston and his team, Bassam Khawaja and Rebecca Riddell, during his term as UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, from 2014 to 2020.

Past Work

The Initiative on Inequality, the Global Economy, and Human Rights, launched in 2015, harnessed the Center’s extensive and diverse in-house expertise and sparks new conversations with visiting and partner advocates, scholars, and students on the connections between economic and fiscal policies, growing inequalities, and human rights. The Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Project created a platform for the extensive activities of CHRGJ Director Philip Alston, as he served as UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, generating related research and programming, such as the American Poverty and Human Rights series. Concerns with poverty and inequality are also core to the work of the Global Justice Clinic, which has been a pioneer among human rights law clinics in the United States in its dedication to addressing economic injustice through innovative, evidence-based approaches.

Philip Alston
CHRGJ Faculty Director
John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law
Katarina Sydow
Senior Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
Rebecca Riddell
Counsel, Human Rights and Privatization Project
Bassam Khawaja
Counsel, Human Rights and Privatization Project
Job Posting
March 1, 2024
2024-2024 Scholars in Residence Call for Applications
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Job Posting
December 1, 2023
2023-2024 Elizabeth Frankel Fellowship
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Reports and Briefing Papers
November 28, 2023
Carbon Markets, Forests and Rights: An Introductory Series: A set of short explainers for indigenous peoples and communities (grayscale)
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February 24, 2021
Locked in! How South Africa came to rely on a digital social security payment monopolist
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January 27, 2021
For Welfare or For Profit? Aadhaar and Private Exploitation of the Poor in India
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November 13, 2020
Uncounted: How Data Drives Inequality
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Related Pages

Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Project
Initiative on Inequality, the Global Economy, and Human Rights
Global Justice Clinic
Human Rights and Privatization Project
UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

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