Global Inequality

The Rapoport Center has embarked on an ambitious five-year project funded by the Ford Foundation to study and rethink the global human rights movement for the twenty-first century, with a particular focus on the use and potential of human rights law and discourse to address economic inequality and its structural causes.

This project will examine the relationship between economic inequality and human rights by focusing on two thematic areas, namely natural resource governance and the future of work. Both of these issues are strongly marked by global and local inequalities. The benefits and burdens of natural resource extraction and labor are unequally distributed; existing inequalities powerfully determine who is in a position to avoid the harms and to reap the profits. The choice of solutions to the challenges posed in these areas – developmentalism, market-based approaches, local, national, or international regulation – has important consequences for inequality over the long run.

The two issues are related but distinct, and offer a fruitful platform for thinking about the role of the global human rights movement in non-traditional areas. Moreover, natural resource exploitation and governance, as well as threats to the rights of workers, not only are issues ideally suited for exploring needed innovations in the protection of human rights; they should be central to the human rights agenda in coming decades and are, we believe, among the greatest causes of human suffering now and in the foreseeable future.

We are delighted to have a distinguished, international Advisory Board to steer the project, and we are grateful for the guidance they provide.

See below for our project components.

Research team members (from top to bottom) John Fossum (University of Texas), Alexandra Lancey (Northeastern), Mileika Lovick (Northeastern), Michael Bass (Northeastern), and Cynthia Ahmed (Harvard) present their findings on food processing workers in Gainesville, Georgia.

The Persistence of Inequality: “Essential” Work and COVID-19

The deadly and debilitating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can be felt in every community and country around the world, but it is not experienced equally. As part of a new project on the future of work, faculty and students at the Rapoport Center have teamed up during summer 2020 with colleagues from Northeastern University and Harvard University to identify and then develop case studies about COVID-19 “hot-spots.”

Inequality & Human Rights: Conceptual Explorations

This initial phase of the Inequality Project considers how international human rights law, movements and discourses have, could or should engage with the problem of economic inequality nationally and internationally.

Natural Resource Governance, Inequality & Human Rights

This component of the Inequality Project examines the relationship between human rights and economic inequality though a detailed investigation of natural resource governance. It explores the human rights issues that arise in the context of natural resource extraction and governance, and how persistent inequalities between and within countries pose additional challenges for the realization of human rights in relation to natural resource extraction.

Labor, Human Rights & the Contestation of Inequality

This component of the Inequality Project will consider the challenges and the possibilities of human rights for adequately combating problems faced by workers in a globalized and simultaneously fragmented market.