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Despite global commitments to reduce inequality, the growth of inequalities appears inexorable. Yet equality is a central tenet of human rights instruments. Why, then, have such laws had such limited traction? Is it because, as Samuel Moyn claims, human rights have ‘nothing to say about material inequality’? I argue that such a view is based on a traditional paradigm, whereby distributive inequality is regarded as solely political, while status inequality is seen as a human rights issue. However, this ignores the deep entanglement of status and distributive inequalities. There is now increasing recognition that poverty should be a ground of discrimination. This talk, however, is concerned not just with poverty, but with inequality per se. Disregarding the unequal distribution of wealth and the nexus between wealth and power mean that poverty can only be addressed in minimalist terms. I present a vision of a right to substantive equality which can pierce the putative divide between policy and law without overstepping the bounds of judicial legitimacy and competence.


Sandra Fredman is Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the USA at the University of Oxford. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and became a Queen’s Council (honoris causa) in 2012. She has published widely in gender equality, feminism and the law, discrimination law, labour law, and comparative human rights, especially socio-economic rights. Her books include Comparative Human Rights (OUP, 2018); Human Rights Transformed (OUP 2008); and Discrimination Law (OUP, 3rd ed 2022). She has been an expert advisor on equality for a variety of governments and organizations. Most recently, she was a member of the expert drafting group of the Abidjan Principles on the Right to Education in the context of Privatization. Her current research projects include the right to fair work for gig economy workers; and the right to Early Childhood Education.

Public Lecture sponsored by the King’s College Summer Residence on Equality, Law and Social Justice. Refreshments will be offered after the lecture.

Event organiser: Professor Davina Cooper

At this event

Davina Cooper

Research Professor in Law & Political Theory

Event details

K6.29 (Anatomy Lecture Theatre)
Strand Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS