SEATTLE, Washington — Law undergirds the modern world. Whether it be through articles in constitutions, administrative decrees or financial regulations, law surrounds us. As it happens, the law is a crucial element behind efforts to accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Furthermore, the law is itself a part of the goals (SDG 16.3). Over the past years, legal empowerment of the poor efforts has increased. Efforts could include those connected to Namati, which convenes the Legal Empowerment Network and the U.S. Department of State.
Despite its reach and importance, and according to a 2019 report, the legal system has not been there for billions of people around the world: over 250 million people live in highly unjust conditions; more than 50% of justice problems in the world have yet to be brought to a resolution; more than one billion people do not have a legal identity. Poor people are among those who cannot easily access justice. Couple their lack of access to the global cost of conflict, which equates to $2,000 per person every year.
The 2008 Report of the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor (CLEP) describes legal empowerment as “a process of systemic change through which the poor and excluded become able to use the law, the legal system and legal services to protect and advance their rights and interests as citizens.” The U.N. General Assembly issued a declaration in 2012, that established this relationship between the rule of law and development. The poor are constrained without legal empowerment and legal disempowerment has enabled others to become even more vulnerable.
Namati is an international legal group that puts paralegals into a global network for effective grassroots advocacy efforts. Namati uses evidence to better grassroots engagements that when effective can be advocated for at a non-local higher level. The group has impacted hundreds of thousands of persons around the world, especially in countries where this help is needed.
Namati has, for example, helped locals to protect their land. Its partners have trained locals with knowledge of the law, as well as how to use and shape it. These community partners, along with community paralegals, have brought changes at the national level: in India, for example, sand-mining regulations greatly improved.
Besides having a presence at the subnational and national levels, Namati also convenes the Legal Empowerment Network at the international level. Born out of a collaboration between the World Bank and Open Society Justice Initiative, the network comprises more than 2,000 groups from a majority of the countries in the world. The network called for access to justice to be a part of the SDGs, which did happen. Namati’s advisory council includes former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and George Soros.
Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP)
Launched in 2019, W-GDP is an approach to women’s economic empowerment that involves multiple U.S. government actors. Earlier this year, the White House Council of Economic Advisors estimated that global gross domestic product (GDP) per year would increase by 8.3%, or trillions of dollars if restrictions were removed in five specified areas linked to barriers to women’s economic empowerment.
With regard to W-GDP and removing specifically legal barriers, the U.S.’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which works to reduce poverty by means of economic growth, has selection criteria for picking countries to assist. Among the criteria is the Gender in the Economy indicator, which was behind Cote d’Ivoire’s legal reforms to family law. The indicator includes questions such as those linked to women’s authority to sign contracts and women’s property rights.
Conviction of Everlight Electronics
South Korea’s Suwon District Court recently decided that Everlight Electronics is at fault for criminally misappropriating the trade secrets of Seoul Semiconductor Co, Ltd. Intellectual property (IP) possibly can stimulate creativity and economic growth. According to Francis Gurry, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) director-general, in a piece that was published in 2015, “[increasingly], African economies are seeking to add value to their innovative and creative resources through the IP system.” He also noted how a conference that year would be an opportunity to become more deeply aware of IP as a driver of poverty reduction in Africa.
Regarding the above court decision, trade secrets are an aspect of IP. Founder of Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd. Chung Hoon Lee put forth that IP “allows people to break through barriers of class and origin… It gives us a tool to fight global poverty.”
Conclusion: Justice for All
A World Bank initiative determined the disparity between the legal experiences of the poor and the non-poor in Colombia and Jordan. In both countries, the poor were more likely than the non-poor to report a legal problem. In Colombia, those in extreme poverty were much more likely to report dissatisfaction with certain legal services.
Though a country could have policies that help the poor, legal issues can provide an obstacle to their fulfillment. Providing justice for all is crucial to reduce poverty. Every dollar invested in justice could possibly yield over $15 due to outcomes connected to a lower risk of conflict. Action to provide justice for all should include legal empowerment of the poor.
– Kylar Cade