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
  • 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 Meeting
November 2-4, 2017
The eighth annual conference of the International Social and Economic Rights Project (iSERP) took place in Universidad EAFIT, Medellín, Colombia, over three days, from November 2-4, 2017. Participants gathered for a discussion of the trajectory of Latin American social constitutionalism, particularly on the question of land rights and indigenous peoples. Conference conveners professors Lucy Williams and Karl Klare, along with PHRGE executive director Kevin Murray, joined experts from across the globe in analyzing the new human rights and land rights court created by the Peace Accord ending the civil war in Colombia. Joe Oloka-Onyango, a distinguished Uganda human rights lawyer, made a featured presentation on the current status of social and economic rights issues and conflicts in East Africa. “The impact of current political trends on social and economic rights, such as the rise of right-wing populism and anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe, India, the US, Chile, South Africa, and other parts of the world was a major topic of conversation in numerous panels,” said Klare.

Previous gatherings have been held in Boston, Bogotá, Bellagio, Delhi, London and Pretoria.

iSERP Meeting
March 24-27, 2016

The seventh annual conference of the International Social and Economic Rights Project (iSERP) took place in Dehli, India, over four days, from March 24-27, 2016. iSERP is a global network of lawyers, judges, human rights advocates and legal academics who critically examine the effectiveness of social and economic rights in bringing about real change in people’s lives. An increasing number of jurisdictions in both the developed and developing worlds have guaranteed social and economic rights in constitutions, treaty commitments, and other legal instruments. iSERP is particularly interested in judicial enforcement of social and economic rights and in how legal processes interact with grassroots activism. The group had its founding conference at NUSL in 2009 and has since met in Boston, Bogotá, Colombia; Pretoria, South Africa; London, UK, and Bellagio, Italy. Precise details will follow in due course.

Institutional Affiliations

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).

Northeastern University School of Law
416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115 (USA)
tel 617.373.4537
fax 617.373.5056
email lu.williams@northeastern.edu.