Our projects and focus areas
The Harrison Institute and its students in the Policy Clinic work across four policy areas: Community Equity; Food & Health; Worker Rights; Trade & Climate
Our projects are described further below.
The Harrison Institute’s community equity team takes a movement-lawyering approach to representing clients who live or work in disinvested and under-resourced neighborhoods in Washington, DC and other cities. Students working in the community equity team collaborate with clients to identify a community goal that requires a policy solution (e.g., help Ward 7 residents prepare for the impacts of climate change), then develop legal questions and strategize policy options to support community clients in meeting their goals.
Current projects in Community Equity
- DC Chinatown preservation — In 2022, residents in DC Chinatown wrote an open letter to their counterparts in Philadelphia, sharing a cautionary tale about the potentially destructive impacts of large-scale developments on their neighborhoods. Since the construction of DC’s Capital One Arena in 1997, only an estimated 10 percent of the original Chinatown businesses and other organizations remain. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese American residents living in DC Chinatown – once home to thousands of Chinese immigrants – has dwindled to less than 300. Indeed, the cultural and economic erosion of DC Chinatown reflects a larger, global experience: the struggle for mom-and-pop stores to keep their doors open, and the daily fight by long-term residents against eviction pressures and rising housing costs – particularly in immigrant neighborhoods and communities of color. The Harrison Institute is working with Councilmember Brooke Pinto’s office to identify legal and policy strategies to support the survival of DC Chinatown, including exploring options in affordable housing, land use, transportation, historical preservation, and business development.
- Pilot cash transfer program in Ward 8 — Ward 8 in Washington, DC, is deep with history and cultural assets; it is also home to some of the city’s most under-resourced neighborhoods, and where residents face stark differences in quality of life compared to residents in other DC neighborhoods. The Harrison Institute is working with a local housing nonprofit to launch a pilot cash transfer program – the first of its kind in the country – that will transfer profits from a private development project to residents in Ward 8.
- Resilience Hubs in Ward 7 – The District’s climate plans have identified Ward 7 as one of the most flood and climate-vulnerable neighborhoods in the city, due in part to the location of the Watts Branch tributary and the prevalence of socioeconomic stressors. Ward 7 residents (Resilience Hub Community Committee, or RHCC) are currently piloting the District’s first “resilience hub,” which can provide a range of services during both “steady-state” periods and emergency events (e.g., extreme weather, pandemics). Since 2017, the Harrison Institute has provided legal and research support to the RHCC and DC Department of Energy and Environment through the predevelopment phase and creation of the hub, including the development of legal and policy benchmarks to bring resilience hubs to scale across the District.
FOOD & HEALTH
The Harrison Institute’s health and food team takes a broad view of the public’s health and the factors that create the conditions under which people can be healthy. Some of our projects have taken a traditional approach to addressing access to care such as making changes to Medicaid or other insurance reforms, addressing the changing needs of state HIV/AIDS programs in the wake of adoption of the ACA, or increasing access to oral health care for children with special health care needs. Other projects, however, have taken a broader public health approach in addressing social determinants of health such as housing and food insecurity as well as multiplier effects such as climate change. Our most recent projects focus on access to oral health care in Washington, DC, and the rights of workers in the food chains that supply universities, including occupational safety and health threats.
Current projects in Food & Health
- Oral health for children and families — DC has an ongoing crisis of access to quality, affordable oral health care. Despite having more dentists per capita than most other states, Washington has acute gaps in dental services in Wards 7 and 8. In its 2018 Primary Care Needs Assessment, the DC Department of Health found that the number of people per dentist in Ward 8 was nearly seven times higher than that of Ward 2. This disparity in access to care is exacerbated by some dentists’ reluctance to accept Medicaid for their services, with only 39% of dentists accepting Medicaid for child dental services as of 2016. Harrison is working with dental hygienists and allies to enable greater access to care for everyone in the District, regardless of which ward they live in. The Harrison Institute is working with a coalition of DC dental hygienists, the DC Pediatric Oral Health Coalition, and the George E. Richmond Foundation to advance changes to the DC scope of practice for dental hygienists to increase their autonomy and ability to provide care to underserved residents of the District.
The worker rights team work primarily with advocacy coalitions to identify and put into practice concrete opportunities to improve working conditions and labor rights across the United States. Students develop legal questions, analyze opportunities for increasing labor standards, and strategize policy options to help clients meet that goal. The worker rights team takes a multi-level approach to making change and uses a bottom-up approach that brings workers and those affected into the work as partners and collaborators.
Current projects in Worker Rights
- Food worker rights and health — Like other institutions, universities purchase food, apparel, and electronics from supply chains that abuse their workers. In the food industry, for example, poultry workers endure unacceptable risks of amputation, exposure to hazardous chemicals, harassment, and wage theft. Workers across all parts of the supply chain have been ravaged by COVID-19 outbreaks without an effective government response. We are leading a national working group (including Georgetown’s Workers’ Rights Institute and the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor; Food Chain Workers Alliance; UFCW; and other universities) to create a Just Purchasing Consortium to enable universities and workers to work together to develop a purchasing code that will improve working conditions for workers who produce their food.
- Labor rights for 2026 FIFA World Cup in America – The 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup tournament will be held across 16 cities in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Since 2018, The Harrison Institute has worked with a coalition of national and international civil society organizations that represent millions of workers and other individuals who face disproportionate risk of labor and human rights violations associated with the world’s most-watched sporting event. In the aftermath of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the Harrison Institute is continuing to work with its partners to improve labor and human rights standards (and their enforcement) at the host-city, national, and transnational levels.
TRADE & CLIMATE
The Trade & Climate Team works at the intersection of climate policy and trade law at the state, national, and international levels. We work with national organizations, think tanks, and industry experts to promote a holistic approach to sustainability. Our goals are to:
- Reduce carbon in the production process for Energy-Intensive, Trade-Exposed (EITE) industries.
- Secure quality jobs as a condition for public spending on investment subsidies, procurement, or consumer incentives.
- Promote sustainable trade by avoiding disputes, whether by using favorable WTO mechanisms or by developing alternative agreements that reform trade rules.
Current projects in Trade & Climate
Climate policies that relate to international trade rules — The United States and the European Union are developing policies to address the impact of climate change including the US Inflation Reduction Act, the EU Emissions Trading System, and proposals for a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). However, trade-law violations are likely to pose serious obstacles to the practical implementation of these climate policies on a global scale. If climate policies are designed to avoid retaliatory tariffs and other sanctions, they will be more likely to achieve their climate goals. The Harrison Institute is working with the Climate Leadership Council, Center for Inclusive Trade & Development, and the BlueGreen Alliance to analyze and develop strategies to mitigate the legal risks posed by international trade rules to climate measures (e.g., subsidies, procurement, border tax/rebates, source-country preferences).
Quality jobs in green manufacturing — The federal government and an increasing number of states are incentivizing green manufacturing in carbon-intensive industries such as steel, aluminum, and electric vehicles. In turn, the concept of “sustainability” has broadened from reducing carbon emissions to also creating a sustainable manufacturing workforce. The Harrison Institute is working with the BlueGreen Alliance (BGA) — a coalition of the largest labor unions and environmental organizations that promotes this vision – to conduct analysis on a variety of federal laws:
- Defense Production Act – to expand production of aluminum and other strategic materials with vulnerable supply chains.
- Inflation Reduction Act – to subsidize investment in carbon-reducing technologies for steel, aluminum, asphalt, and glass.
- Buy-clean procurement – to provide a preference for reduced-carbon materials over the life cycle of public infrastructure, such as buildings, highways, and electronic vehicles.