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5 Exciting Human Rights Career Paths


When thinking of human rights career paths, often Public Administration, International Development, Advocacy/Lobbying, Policy and other similar fields come into mind but there are many other avenues into a human rights career. The unique career paths described below offer professionals in fields like law, tech, business, marketing and journalism the chance to use their skills to promote and encourage human rights.


Human rights law is typically thought of in international terms, but it can be practiced at local levels as well. Lawyers in the field of human rights can work under a variety of issues—immigration, criminal justice, labor laws, international law, etc. At the international level, organizations like the UN, International Organization for Migration, Human Rights Watch, and International Criminal Court use human rights lawyers and/or other professionals familiar with law. At more national levels, even across multiple countries, human rights lawyers can work for entities like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa, and other national groups fighting for the rights of people in their countries. Even at the local level, lawyers interested in human rights can work with issues such as immigration, criminal justice, domestic violence, labor rights, and more. Lawyers in the human rights field work to enforce laws at the local, national, and international level that protect rights of people and advocate for additional protections to be put in place when gaps exist in current legislation. They can also use law to fight new legislation that may be harmful to basic human rights.


The tech field is becoming increasingly important in the human rights sector. Technology allows people to create powerful platforms to discuss human rights issues, spread awareness and information, expose and document human rights violations and protect themselves more effectively. Tech is also increasingly being used to promote the well-being of vulnerable populations in human rights issues—from increased use of the internet in finding human trafficking victims to apps created to prevent labor trafficking and/or assault. Tech professionals can work for a variety of companies that do everything from collecting and analyzing data to reporting and recording human rights abuses as they happen. Work places include websites like WITNESS and Citizentube that teach and empower people to live stream and record protests and human rights violations or even Ushahidi’s Crowdmap or HandheldHumanRights.org (no longer in use), which use human rights data to map and chart information on issues like rape, activism, access to internet and other types of infrastructure, etc. Even smart phone apps are increasingly being used to disperse news and information on human rights issues. App developers are working with organizations like Human Rights Watch, the Guardian Project, and even the UN. With increasing globalization and use of the internet, social media, and smart phones, tech professionals will continue to play an important role in human rights.


Human rights professionals are also gaining ground in the business field, especially due to increasing awareness about labor rights and labor equality. Human rights professionals can work in corporate-social responsibility jobs, ensuring that laborers have unions and livable wages. Organizations like Made in a Free World and Free2Work are consistently putting pressure on companies to adhere to human rights standards, and human rights professionals in the field of business are helping companies meet those standards. Human rights professionals can also work in areas of anti-corruption and environmental protection/standards within businesses and corporations. In addition to organizations trying to hold businesses to human rights standards—like the UN, Human Rights Watch, and others—other organizations exist solely to research issues of business and human rights and to mediate dialogue between the two sides. Business and human rights professionals can work for organizations like the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre or the Institute for Human Rights and Business to foster dialogue between different stakeholders. Even companies such as GAP, Inc. work to make sure that their workers are represented, their labor standards and practices are fair, and their factories are ethically established in a way that gives back to the communities they are in. Human rights professionals can impact the business field by working for private companies and organizations to uphold standards that protect vulnerable people and curb corruption.


Marketing professionals in the human rights field can work to create awareness, promote organizations, fundraise, and more. Especially with social media, marketing is an important strategy for human rights organizations to be able to get the word out about the work their doing and the issues they are fighting for or against. Marketers set the tone for ad and awareness campaigns. They understand the target audiences and can help organizations looking to get people involved tailor their ads, social media pages, and even websites to do just that. Marketers can understand the current attitudes, wants, and needs of society in order to better communicate messages of human rights organizations. They tell the story of the people who are impacted the most by human rights violations, stirring people to act. The need for people with marketing and advertising skills in human rights organizations is prevalent—every place from the UN to Human Rights Campaign to small, local level organizations can benefit and grow with a strong marketing team.


Journalism in human rights focuses on getting information and stories to the public and mobilizing people through spreading accurate information. Journalists focusing on human rights can create awareness around specific topics, report on human rights abuses, and use their writing/news platforms to foster conversation and push for change. Journalists can work for a variety of platforms ranging from writing columns in a newspaper to writing articles for an agency newsletter to writing in-depth investigative pieces for larger news corporations. Almost every major news platform has a human rights section—New York Times, CNN, Huffington Post, to name just a few. Most non-profit organizations offer newsletters to staff, donors, and others interested in their work to keep people updated on various programs, campaigns, and news. Social media also plays a huge role for journalists looking to get stories to the public and create awareness around human rights issues. While breaking into this specific area of journalism is not easy, it can be extremely rewarding for journalists who are passionate about human rights and want to use their skills to further the cause.

About the author

Allison Reefer

Allison Reefer is a young professional living in Pittsburgh, PA. She works with a refugee resettlement agency to help refugees and immigrants in the city, and she volunteers with a local shelter for human trafficking victims. She obtained her Master in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh and a BA in Writing from Geneva College, focusing most of her academic work on human trafficking and migration in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In her free time, she loves to write, read, sing and play bass guitar, practice Russian, and explore her city.