Poverty, Justice and the Rule of Law

Few contemporary questions are as fundamental for the legal profession as the wellbeing (or lack thereof) of more than one billion people on the planet living in poverty.

Featuring contributions from four Nobel laureates, Poverty, Justice and the Rule of Law (2013) – the Report of the Second Phase of the IBA Presidential Task Force on the Global Financial Crisis – is a first attempt at dealing thoroughly with the post-GFC effects on poverty. Intended to help legal practitioners and those who interpret their efforts more decisively down the path, this book captures an essential core of issues and approaches, and it is hoped that it may be a stimulus to the continuation of such work in these and other relevant fields.

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‘This is a book that not only teaches how integral legal support is to achieving social change but also provides a comprehensive analysis of the concept of justice, as both theory and a practical approach in the wake of the GFC’

Máximo Bomchil
IBA Council Member; Co-Chair, IBA Law Firm Management Committee (2013–2014);
Senior Partner of M & M Bomchil, Buenos Aires


Click on a chapter title for more information, film clips and quotes.

‘Few contemporary questions are as fundamental for the legal profession as the wellbeing (or lack thereof) of more than one billion people on the planet living in poverty.

Since the onset of the global financial crisis (GFC) in 2008, the years have been characterised by unprecedented economic volatility and government debt burdens. The events that followed the GFC set back many attempts to escape poverty, propelled people into poverty for the first time, or significantly increased their degree of economic and social inequality, not only in developing countries, but everywhere.

Corporate governance and responsibility, labour and employment law, pro bono activities, the empowerment of women and vulnerable groups, and the rule of law are not the mainstays of an activist agenda. Rather, they are part of the ‘day job’ of business lawyers and the daily aspirations of the law for everyone. Business lawyers have a professional responsibility to understand the issues and advise clients of the impact on their activities. Their clients have a responsibility to their own interests and to the communities in which they operate to act in ways that promote social and economic wellbeing.’

Peter D Maynard and Neil Gold

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‘All laws must be compatible with fundamental human rights. A legislator, respecting the instructions to be derived from the rule of law and the related rule of fundamental human rights, should refrain from pursuing legislation in contradiction of these overriding supra-political principles. The GFC crisis has put a heavy and new kind of responsibility on governments, requiring them to find new solutions using new ways.

In times of financial crisis, those with governmental responsibilities are seeking measures to make governing more efficient. Of course, politicians also look at it from this point of view: let measures be both more efficient and cheaper, while achieving the same or even better results. Many such measures are sensible, but some of them need a closer look: when moral principles are sacrificed on the altar of efficiency, the basic values of our society are threatened. We are then in danger of losing the delicate balance that is the very fundament of the rule of law, of the rule of fundamental rights and of a society that protects all its citizens at a minimum civilised level.’

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‘Lawyers can provide vital help to encourage and enable lower-income people to take care of themselves in the US and internationally.

The needs are universal, but laws differ among countries, so perhaps lawyers can form groups in each country to develop or revise laws that ultimately help the poor to help themselves. Perhaps one group of lawyers can be formed for each of these or similar objectives in every country where such changes are needed.’

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‘Despite appearances, deep inside of every human being lies a precious treasure of initiative and creativity waiting to be discovered, to be unleashed, to change life for the better’

Muhammad Yunus
Grameen Bank; Nobel Peace Prize-winner

Excerpt from IBA interview with Muhammad Yunus (4:14)  

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‘Pro bono legal work has undergone a profound transformation in the past 25 years. For the most part, pro bono has been ad hoc and individualised, dispensed informally as charity; increasingly it has become coordinated and structured, particularly within large law firms. The key rationale for pro bono is that private lawyers act out of a professional ethical duty to improve access to justice. This paper traces the development of the international pro bono legal movement, the way in which it works and some of the key agencies involved. It analyses a sample of 100 current or recent international pro bono legal projects to identify trends and draw conclusions about the way that international pro bono legal movement works in the context of addressing the social impact in developing countries post-GFC.’

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‘In classical Sanskrit, two distinct words – niti and nyaya – help to differentiate two separate concentrations. Words such as niti and nyaya have been used in many different senses by different legal theorists in ancient India but one of the main uses of the term niti is organisational propriety. In contrast, the term nyaya stands for a more comprehensive concept of realised justice. In this line of vision, the role of institutions, important as it is, takes a subsidiary and partial role. For example, the ancient Indian legal theorists talked disparagingly of what they called matsyanaya: ‘justice in the world of fish’ – a society of fish where a big fish can freely devour a small fish.

Whatever the propriety of established organisations, if a big fish remains free to devour a small fish, then this is a violation of human justice, no matter to what the causation of that transgression is traced. […] It is easy to see that the pursuit of world justice would need a great many institutional developments and organisational changes around the globe, but underlying our interest in institutional analysis must be some idea of the overall demands of global justice itself. The distinction between nyaya and niti is, thus, important for the subject of world justice.’


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‘Since Aristotle, justice has been recognised as core to any civilised notion of the good life, government and society: government without justice is tyranny; and society without justice is anathema to its citizens’

Livingston Armytage
Reforming Justice: A Journey to Fairness in Asia

‘During the past 50 years, development agencies have spent billions of dollars around the world supporting reforms that grapple with the challenges of improving the rule of law for people... But the results of these endeavours have usually been underwhelming and sometimes dismal. As evidenced most recently, the GFC has particularly affected the poor in developing countries, who are disproportionately vulnerable to injustice as well as economic hardship. The civic wellbeing of the poor and their access to equitable opportunities are placed under mounting pressure in times of financial crisis. International efforts to promoting justice and the rule of law have traditionally failed to address these problems effectively – and in this sense, the rule of law enterprise is now poised on the brink of development failure. At its essence, the unmet challenge of development is to address mounting concerns about equity and distribution.’

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‘Human rights violations that become tolerated in times of crisis may lead to fuelling disparities in society; it may ‘legitimise’ xenophobia or violence against minorities and vulnerable groups; [...] and a potential ‘political ticking bomb’ fostering extremism and unrest’

Sigrun I Skogly
Head of Department, Law School, Lancaster University

‘What may the results be if states ignore the human rights effects of their GFC responses? It has been demonstrated that there is a growing disparity between rich and poor in the period since 2007−2008. It has also been shown that the poorer segments of societies carry a disproportionate ‘burden’ of dealing with the financial crisis in terms of cuts in public spending, public sector jobs and social security for vulnerable groups. The disparities referred to [...]may lead to unrest and conflict within and among societies. In Europe, there has been growing opposition to the political solutions that are being ‘imposed’ on the population [resulting]  in large scale peaceful demonstrations, in more violent demonstrations, and perhaps even more worryingly in a sharp rise in ‘far-right’ or extremist groups that advocate a militant opposition and violence against immigrants, asylum seekers and people of a different colour in general. [...] What will the long-term prospect be for peaceful coexistence if human rights violations become more widespread and perhaps even tolerated by the majority of the population?’

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Total expenditure on training and passive labour market programmes (% GDP)

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‘The case for the welfare state that motivates these proclamations is that it protects its citizens against the consequences of risks beyond their control (Agell 1999). The case against the welfare state is that it blunts incentives and reduces productivity. Supporting this point of view is that the economic performance of many welfare states has been poor. There has been a rapid run-up in unemployment in most Western European welfare states in the past 20 years. When properly measured, many Western European welfare states have much higher rates of unemployment than are reported in the official statistics. Incentives to withdraw from work, to go underground, to evade taxes, to retire early and not to produce are high.

Not all welfare states have lagged, or at least they have not all lagged in the same way. It is fruitful to examine differences in economic performance among different welfare states. This is the topic of the chapter. The key to a successful welfare state lies in devising proper incentives to encourage actors at all levels of the economic system to respond to the new opportunities. In principle, a welfare state can provide the proper incentives for productivity and at the same time afford a measure of security and dignity for its citizens. But it has to respect incentives.’

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‘It is clear that the 2008 GFC is continuing to have major repercussions for the world economy, and for labour markets. […] The GFC is influencing regulation of the employment relationship, in particular in terms of:

  • pressures on the regulation of employment relationships through the contract of employment;
  • greater informality of labour markets and employers’ increasing use of non-standard, flexible labour or precarious labour;
  • the gendered nature of non-standard labour; and
  • national and international policies and regulation to combat precarious work.

‘As Simon Deakin notes “[r]adical, deregulatory labour law reforms have been demanded of EU member states receiving financial support from the financial  Troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF”’

Simon Deakin
Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, Cambridge
as quoted in ‘The GFC: Impact on Labour and Employment Law’ by Diamond Ashiagbor


There is a symmetry between the impact the GFC is having on individual and collective labour law within industrialised countries [...] and the effect of structural adjustment programmes implemented by the IMF and the World Bank on labour markets in developing states from the 1970s onwards. [...] Taking the EU as a regional case study, governmental – and supranational – responses to the current crisis, in particular the crisis in sovereign debt, have placed labour and employment law centre-stage in the array of policy mechanisms.’

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‘This chapter makes three arguments:

‘Until financial interests dominate nations less, it seems likely that labour will continue to carry the burden of a crisis it was not responsible for. If commentators who argued that inequality is one of the causes of the crisis were right, current trends would indicate that continued instability in the future is likely’

Shelley Marshall
Faculty of Business and Economics
Monash University

  • Labour is incorrectly carrying responsibility for the debt crisis. There are numerous explanations for the US-led financial crisis of 2007 and the sovereign debt crisis of 2009/10 in Europe. None focuses on labour as the cause. Yet labour has been targeted in austerity measures that aim to re-balance national budgets and reduce indebtedness.
  • Given that inequality is seen by some to be a cause of the crisis, and increased inequality has certainly been an outcome of the crisis, measures should be put in place to increase equality. Labour law is an important tool for reducing inequality, and if designed appropriately, this can occur in a reflexive and responsive manner. Instead, conditionalities currently associated with EU bailouts are likely to intensify long-term unemployment and inequality rather than reduce it.
  • The reason austerity is being chosen over other policy options is due to the dominance of financial markets. So much economic policy today is focused on ‘restoring confidence in the markets’, yet, as Wolfgang Streeck has recently commented, it is now impossible to restore the confidence of the financial markets and the majority of citizens at the same time.’

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‘The GFC had, and continues to have, severe negative social, economic and ecological impacts, in particular on the poorest in the world. Funds are invested in the rescue of banks instead of feeding the poor. The financial market moved from derivatives in real estate to the speculation in foodstuffs, leading to an increase in prices that some of the poorest can no longer afford to cover their basic needs. Credit shortages hit small enterprises, profit margins of suppliers in less developed countries are tightened, unemployment is high and land grabbing becomes a rising claim as agricultural land is discovered as an attractive and solid investment in uncertain times.

Despite all these (and more) negative impacts, the GFC also had a cathartic effect insofar as it made the systemic failures, the misguided incentive schemes, the conflicts of interest and the disastrous consequences of the lack of efficient regulation and control transparent, and triggered a broad international discussion on corporate (social) responsibility (CSR), not confined to the financial sector and the First World, but encompassing business operations worldwide, in particular the supply chains in less-developed countries. If the CSR concept is developed in a realistic and efficient way it can improve working and living conditions in the long run everywhere, including the poorer countries, and alleviate poverty.’

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Rae Lindsay of Clifford Chance and Yasmin Batliwala of A4ID on CSR and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (3:10)

‘The legal profession is slowly coming to terms with the inevitability of CSR as applied to legal organisations as business enterprises. Law firms face pressure from clients, employees and governments to demonstrate their own CSR credentials. Enlightened corporate clients now audit their professional services providers and other business chain members on their CSR track records. A law firm’s CSR performance affects its reputation and its capacity to attract good employees from generations X and Y. Similarly, access to governmental work for lawyers can be linked to CSR factors, such as a firm’s employment diversity, pro bono efforts and other societal contributions. More broadly, integrating CSR within law firms means aligning it fully with their business strategy, performance indicators and other organisational systems. Advising business clients on CSR is also a mushrooming field of work for law firms and other business services providers. In terms of broader public policy and regulatory reform, lawyers for business and those affected by business in markets and communities also have special expertise and responsibility for contributions to corporate law reform initiatives that enhance the place of business in society. What does this mean for business and those who provide professional services and advice to business? At the very least, it means rethinking corporate and professional approaches to CSR, so that organisations are better situated to deal with the 21st-century conditions of the surrounding business environment.’

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‘The reaction of the legal community to the 2001–2002 Argentine crisis and its effects on access to justice was a continuation of a longer trend that had started two decades before, with the way Argentina’s society dealt with radical evil, that is, the 1976−1983 military dictatorship and its systematic, massive human rights violations.

Lawyers, out of the passivity and even complicity with regimes that disregarded human rights and the rule of law, organised responses to the recurrent crisis Argentina faced in the last decades. To confront radical evil, they sought for truth and punishment; to confront hyperinflation and stagnation, they organised a regulatory state and civil society organisations to control it; to enhance deliberation on public policies they developed procedural mechanisms for individual and collective interests to access the justice system; and to fight against poverty and corruption they organised legal services organisations to advice and advocate in the favour of those least advantaged. A new profession is working in a new political system.

Such tectonic changes require time to settle into practices. They need new ways of legal education, new professional ethics rules, new legal organisations and a new relationship with the judiciary and the political powers. But the Argentine legal profession has come this far − far enough to look back and have many things to be proud of.’


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‘Money laundering (ML) inevitably adds to global poverty for several reasons:

  • It assists organised crime. Organised criminals and rogue governments’ raison d’être is the extraction of huge amounts of money from vulnerable and dependent groups (eg, addictive drug users, ethnic and religious minorities, problem gamblers, sex tourists and even paedophiles). These individuals develop sophisticated repressive cultures and networks that in turn entrench large numbers of other people in suffering as well [and their] ability to keep the proceeds of their oppression is secured by effective ML.
  • It deprives governments of revenue by allowing evasion of taxation systems. Particularly in those regions that are poverty stricken, those governments that wish to reduce poverty are impeded in their efforts to spend on social infrastructure. These problems become even more pronounced when successive global recessions further depress economies, increase unemployment and reduce tax revenue again.
  • It reduces the collective authority of professional groups such as lawyers, accountants, financiers and bankers. Because ML requires professional help to manage, set up and keep secret the conduits for laundered funds, it undermines the integrity of [these] professional groups. Collectively, these professions could be a key global resource in reducing poverty because they effectively mediate access to the means of production, wealth accumulation and, especially, wealth distribution.’

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The President of the IBA and the Task Force on the GFC, Poverty and Law identified a series of programmes offered at the IBA Annual Conference in Dublin in October 2012 called the ‘Presidential Priority Sessions’. These sessions either specifically addressed the effects of the GFC on poor people and poor countries and the role of law in mitigating or exacerbating poverty or explored examples of both hard and soft law regimes that have been created to protect, either directly or indirectly, the interests of the poor. This chapter reviews these sessions.

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‘ Lawyers have to be mindful of the fact that because of the GFC, legal aid has been reduced for those who cannot afford legal services. The legal profession has to insist that there is access to justice for all’

Professor Joseph E Stiglitz
Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics

Excerpt from IBA interview with Joseph Stiglitz (2:00)  

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‘We extend our sincere thanks to the authors, the other members of the Task Force, the Rapporteurs, the Steering Committee and all the other persons, some of whom are indicated above, who assisted in any way in the successful completion of this project. We thank James Lewis, Tim Licence, Neil Smith, Hannah Caddick and Tom Bangay of the IBA and all other persons who aided in the publication and dissemination of this body of work, notably Nigel Roberts of LexisNexis for his insights. We profoundly thank for their help and cooperation the IBA leadership – President Michael Reynolds, Past President Akira Kawamura, Vice-President David Rivkin, Secretary-General Martin Šolc – and also Gabrielle Williamson, Stephen Macliver and the PPID Council (now the PPID Coordinating Group), as well as Sylvia Khatcherian, Hendrik Haag, Michael Greene, Almudena Arpón de Mendívil, Jaime Carey, Jon Grouf, Mark Ellis, Tim Hughes and other members of the IBA Management Board. We especially thank Elaine Owen, Ronnie Hart, Jenny Clugston, Robyn Wheatley and other IBA staff who gave their assistance.

It was a great team effort, which we think is reflected in the extraordinarily high quality of this book.’

Peter D Maynard and Neil Gold

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‘The various articles offer great inspiration to discussing the role lawyers and law firms currently play, and possibly could play, in the fight against poverty.’

Søren Jenstrup
President of the Danish Bar and Law Society and officer-at-large, IBA Bar Issues Commission

‘The focus… is on what can be done now, even despite dysfunctional governments and public indifference (or even hostility) to the plight of the poor.

Poverty, Justice and the Rule of Law and the initiative by the International Bar Association, constitute an important step away from the unfortunate, but sometimes well-deserved, perceptions of lawyers as accomplices in poverty, inequality, and class oppression, and toward a proper recognition of our role as agents in their eradication. These goals are well within our grasp.’

Read the full review here >

Norman Clark
Co-founder, Walker Clark, Fort Myers FL; Chair, IBA Law Firm Management Committee (2009–2010); member of the IBA Working Group on Poverty, Empowerment, and the Rule of Law

‘The book recognises that there are shortcomings in many legal systems which during the GFC have seen the most vulnerable of humanity become further disadvantaged.  It contains an impressive set of practical suggestions for law reform, and harnessing the clear strength of the legal profession to achieve changes which will improve both the quality of, and access to, justice globally.’

Margery Nicholl
Deputy Secretary-General and Director, International, Law Council of Australia

‘A common mistake of such books is that they confuse the Kantian sein und sollen, and instead of being planted in reality they are simply dreaming. This book avoids this. The statistical analyses, the case studies, the accounts of laws and international treaties help us to understand the reality, and to plan the next steps – in particular for the legal profession. This book is necessary and useful.’

Péter Köves
Vice President of the Budapest Bar of Lawyers Association; Former President of The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (2008);Founding Partner, Lakatos, Köves and Partners

‘It is certainly our duty not to rest until there is no injustice being committed against human beings and communities – and no injustice is crueler than extreme poverty. It seems that this awareness is more and more present among the members of the legal profession, and it is certainly present in the IBA. This is evidenced by a work of the magnitude of this book Poverty, Justice and the Rule of Law, brilliantly edited by Peter Maynard and Neil Gold.’

Horacio Bernardes-Neto
Motta, Fernandes Rocha Advogados, São Paulo