The International Social and Economic Rights Project(iSERP)

Our Mission Statement

Who we are

We are an informal, international network of lawyers, judges, other human rights advocates, and academics focusing on Social & Economic Rights (SER). We seek to identify and promote legal developments in the service of social justice. Within that broad framework, we represent a wide range of viewpoints. Our working premise is that enacting, implementing, and enforcing SER can play a significant role in making our societies more equal, just, inclusive, and caring, and in fostering human dignity and self-realization. We also see expanding SER as a way of deepening democracy because SER are constitutive of democracy in the broadest sense. Our beliefs mix reason and experience with hope. How effective SER-based legal approaches will be in advancing social justice and improving the quality of life in the new century remains a question for study and debate.

Our mission

We seek to encourage and develop critical and transformative thinking about SER and SER-based legal strategies. iSERP provides a space where SER-practitioners, activists, and academics can cast critical and introspective light on our work, reflect on its strengths and weaknesses, and develop ideas and methodologies for improving the effectiveness of SER-based legal work. We believe that progress in this field gains from close dialogue between practice-based and academic perspectives.

Over the long run, we hope to assist practitioners and activists attempting to justify, secure, and enforce SER. We aspire to generate legal approaches that will encourage legislatures, courts, administrative agencies, regional and international commissions and agencies, and other decision makers to take a robust and creative approach to SER and anti-discrimination law. At the same time, we hope to make evident to all that social justice movements of disadvantaged and disenfranchised people claim legal rights that state and society have denied them. To the extent that SER pose novel questions that do not fit comfortably within traditional legal molds, we aim to develop new legal ideas and theories supportive of SER approaches. We have particularly focused on modernizing the theory of separation-of-powers, democratic theory, and the proper scope of judicial review, devising sophisticated remedies for SER cases, facilitating grassroots and community participation in the legal process, and examining the impact of SER and transformative constitutions on questions of private law, economic democracy, and economic development.

What we do

Our initial activities have consisted of organizing international workshops to share and interrogate grassroots experience, legal developments, and legal theory relative to SER. We seek a collegial, non-hierarchic, and dialogic format for these events in keeping with our egalitarian aspirations. In the future, we expect to expand our activities to include—

• structured research projects leading to publication,

• ad hoc meetings and workshops to address particular problems and to reach wider audiences, and

• judicial trainings.

We will not duplicate functions that other groups and institutes already perform admirably, such as addressing strategic and technical issues in current litigation or providing a clearinghouse for SER documents. Our group seeks outreach to and connection with others in the field; however, our meetings are generally in the format of small working groups by invitation.


iSERP is based at the Program on Human Rights in the Global Economy (PHRGE), Northeastern University School of Law, Boston (USA). Other institutions will host future conferences on a rotating basis. Thus far we have held workshops at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, USA (2009), the Faculty of Law, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia (2010), and the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa (2011).


The convenor of iSERP is Professor Lucy Williams, School of Law, Northeastern University,400 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 (USA), tel 617-373-4537, fax 617-373-5056, email PHRGE’s Executive Director is Gillian MacNaughton, tel 617-373-4972, fax 617-373-8236, email

This site grew out of the Workshop on the Justiciability of Socio-Economic Rights hosted by the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy at Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, MA, US, March 19-21, 2009. It is meant to serve as a tool and resource for advocates, scholars, and others around the world working towards the recognition and promotion of Economic, Social and Cultural Human Rights.


Member Bios and Contact Information


Working Drafts (Closed/Locked Collaboration Page-Members Only)