UCL Institute for Human Rights


Does Affirmative Action Create Unfair Advantage?

19 June 2014, 6:00 pm

Event Information

Open to



UCL Faculty of Laws


Moot Court, Bentham House

Equal Rights Trust

Affirmative action to advance equality is a controversial issue in many countries. Black economic empowerment and employment equity measures have not made much headway in undoing apartheid's legacy in South Africa and racial criteria in university admissions in the USA have been contested in the courts. At the same time constitutional provisions favouring Bumiputera in Malaysia put members of the group in a privileged position that arguably amounts to discrimination. In Britain, a different but also debated approach is taken – that of “positive duties” – in the new generation of equality legislation.

Are affirmative action measures negatively divisive or are they necessary if we are to achieve equality? If they are necessary, when is the use of such measures justifiable? Are sex, race or disability quotas fair? If not, are there better strategies?

The distinguished panellists will clarify and explore the advantages and disadvantages of affirmative action policies favouring certain disadvantaged groups, as well as the British approach to positive duties. They will also engage in a discussion with the public on this contentious issue.


  • Dr Gay McDougall, Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Fordham University School of Law, former UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues
  • Helen Mountfield QC, Barrister at Matrix Chambers
  • Judge Kate O’Regan, Judge of the South African Constitutional Court 1994-2009
  • Dr Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of The Equal Rights Trust
  • Professor Theodore Shaw, Professor of Professional Practice in Law at Columbia University School of Law


  • Sir Bob Hepple QC, Chair of The Equal Rights Trust