The Smart Campaign Enshrines Non-discrimination in Core Principles

> Posted by Josh Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, Center for Financial Inclusion, and Michael Stein, Executive Director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability
The Smart Campaign has taken a remarkable step forward in protecting the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), as well as other vulnerable and marginalized populations, by drafting revisions to its Client Protection Principles to include specific language prohibiting discrimination. Leaving no room for ambiguity, the new principle on Responsible Treatment of Clients stipulates that “client selection and treatment should not involve discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, political affiliation, disability, religion or orientation. Non-discriminatory treatment is important for providing access to financial services to all clients who can use them and builds their confidence in the fairness of the provider.”
Embedding such rights-based language in its core principles vaults the international microfinance industry (that has signed on to the Smart Campaign), to a leadership position in the fight for equal access and opportunity for Persons with Disabilities, as called for by the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first great human rights treaty of the 21st century, now signed and/or ratified by 147 countries. Particularly consonant with the Smart Campaign Client Protection Principles are articles 27 (Work and Employment) of the treaty:States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others, {in a} work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities;” and article 32 (a) “international development programmes {must be} inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities.”
Best estimates right now suggest that less than 0.5% of MFI clients are PWDs, even though they comprise at least 12% of the global population, more than 650 million people. The new guidelines from the Smart Campaign will over time lead to a new era of accessible and disability friendly MFIs that will not only welcome, but seek out qualified clients no matter what their disability, ethnicity, or any other such minority classification.  MFIs that do not endorse the Smart Campaign are likely to be at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.
We should all be proud that the Smart Campaign signatories are enshrining disability rights in their core principles and that the providers of financial services to the poor stand shoulder to shoulder with the human rights community in making discrimination of any kind a thing of the past.
Professor Stein was  involved in helping to draft the Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities.