About Us

Countries are bound under international law to respect, protect, and fulfill economic and social rights, yet there are few viable tools to assess human rights fulfillment and hold States accountable for meeting these obligations. The Economic and Social Rights Empowerment Initiative provides rigorous tools of quantitative measurement and analysis regarding fulfillment of economic and social rights—the right to food, the right to adequate shelter, the right to healthcare, the right to education, the right to decent work, the right to social security, and protection against discrimination.

At the core of the Initiative is the Index of Social and Economic Rights Fulfillment (the SERF Index). Created through a three-year consultative process, the index uses objective, survey-based data published by national and international bodies to measure the performance of countries and sub-national units on the fulfillment of economic and social rights obligations. A fundamental principal of international law is that countries have a duty to progressively realize economic and social rights to the maximum of available resources. Statistics like school enrollment and infant mortality tell us only the extent to which individuals enjoy economic and social rights, but not whether a state is complying with its obligations to progressively respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Measuring economic and social rights fulfillment requires considering the perspectives of both the rights-holding individual and the duty-bearing government. The composite SERF Index is comprised of separate scores for each core economic and social right, and estimates obligations for progressive realization by using an innovative approach that maps an ‘achievement possibilities frontier’.

Go to the Data section of this website for a summary technical note on the construction of the index, and for full data sets. The conceptual and methodological underpinnings of the SERF Index have been published in two papers in the Journal of Human Rights, (Fukuda-Parr, Lawson-Remer and Randolph 2009) and (Randolph, Fukuda-Parr and Lawson Remer 2010). Go to the Research section of this website for these citations and other research papers, including two case studies that apply the SERF Index to states of Brazil and the United States to reveal inequalities within a country. Note that the SERF Index was initially referred to as the Index of Economic and Social Rights Fulfillment (ESRF-Index).

The SERF Index is the only index of economic and social rights that:

  • considers the perspective of both the rights-holder and the duty-bearer, measuring state compliance with obligations of progressive realization;
  • makes possible objective assessment of whether the overall situation in a country is improving or deteriorating;
  • allows cross-country comparisons in rights fulfillment; and
  • provides a methodology to examine disparity in rights fulfillment between regions, or between racial and ethnic population sub-groups.

The Economic and Social Rights Empowerment Initiative is supporting in-depth country case studies of human rights outcomes and their policy origins, facilitating information sharing related to the political economy of rights fulfillment, and working to develop the capacity of northern and southern civil society organizations to utilize the SERF Index in economic and social rights monitoring and advocacy.

For an overview of the goals and tools of the initiative, click on this Youtube video: