Contact FutureLearn for Support Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

The Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines

In 2012, the “Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery” adapted a legal definition from the 1926 Slavery Convention.

The 1926 definition reads: “Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.” But as legal ownership rights are no longer asserted today by slaveholders, the Bellagio–Harvard Guidelines state that for contemporary slavery, the exercise of “the powers attaching to the right of ownership” should be understood as possession: “control over a person by another such as a person might control a thing.”

The Guidelines therefore define “slavery” as “controlling a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of individual liberty, with the intent of exploitation through the use, management, purchase, sale, profit, transfer or disposal of that person.” The exercise of any or all of these powers attaching to the right of ownership should provide evidence of slavery, insofar as they demonstrate control over a person tantamount to possession.

This definition provides the type of legal certainty which is fundamental to any prosecution of contemporary slavery. It also captures the factual reality of slavery and requires us to look closely at the core characteristics of an enslaved person’s life, to see that slaves have lost free will, are under violent control, are economically exploited, and are paid nothing beyond subsistence. Now as in the past, enslavement means that a person no longer has control over the following elements of their life for a period of time: what type of work they do (their livelihood); their work environment and conditions; and their freedom of movement in the context of this work. Any situation that leads to this lack of freedom needs to be covered in national and international law.

Please read the Guidelines in full. You can find them in the downloads section of this page, below.

After reading the Guidelines, tell us in the comments what you think of its definition. How far does it capture the realities of slavery that the course has described so far?

You can also prepare your responses and questions for Kevin Bales, who was a member of the Research Network on the Legal Parameters of Slavery that authored the Guidelines, and will be in our live hot-seat discussion later this week.

This article is from the free online course:

Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition

The University of Nottingham