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In the two years since the Ford Foundation identified inequality as the central focus of all our grant making, I have been asked countless times, "What does this mean for the foundation’s support for human rights work?"
The question can be answered in very straightforward terms:
We will continue to be a major funder in this field, supporting human rights actors and practices within all our efforts to overcome inequality. Let me say quite clearly, however, that this does not mean business as usual for us. Rather, it represents a more complex mix of continuity and disruption.
There is general agreement that, over the past several decades, the movement helped establish a moral consensus around human rights across the globe; created international mechanisms to protect these rights; spurred the adoption of national legal standards around human rights; and eventually grew from a fairly narrow movement focused on physical integrity to one addressing almost every aspect of social, economic, cultural, and political life—and in doing so, has secured a framework and an approach that has been embraced by a broad array of other movements, focused on everything from indigenous peoples to Internet freedom.
And, from across the decades, there is also ample evidence that this human rights framework has been effective in confronting authoritarian regimes and, more broadly, in addressing violations related to political systems that persecute or discriminate against specific groups.
But we can also generally agree that its success in responding to human rights violations that have at their core unfair or biased socioeconomic systems has been much more limited. This is not an observation that hinges on a distinction between civil and political rights, on the one hand, and economic, social, and cultural rights, on the other. It is, fundamentally, an observation that suggests there is a common set of structural causes underlying human rights violations of all types—and that the movement has not yet brought its strength to bear on these underlying structural issues.