Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery

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The Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines were developed between 2010-2012 as a means of giving legal certainty to the international recognised definition of slavery as set out in the 1926 Slavery Convention.

Developed by leading scholars and practitioners in property law, the law of slavery, and historical and contemporary slavery, the Guidelines were envisioned as a means of assisting judges in conceptualised slavery in a contemporary world which has abolished the legal ownership of human beings.

The Members of the Research Network who developed the Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines also produced an edited volume: Jean Allain (ed.), The Legal Understanding of Slavery: From the Historical to the Contemporary, OUP, 2012.

In 2016, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights accepted in the Hacienda Brasil Verde Workers v. Brazil case, that the following Guideline 2 was the manner in which to conceptualise slavery in international law:

  • Guideline 2 – The Exercise of the Powers Attaching to the Right of Ownership
  • In cases of slavery, the exercise of ‘the powers attaching to the right of ownership’ should be understood as constituting control over a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploitation through the use, management, profit, transfer or disposal of that person. Usually this exercise will be supported by and obtained through means such as violent force, deception and/or coercion.

The Guidelines are available below by clicking on the hyperlinks. They are reproduced in each of the official languages of the United Nations:

In English:

The Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery

In Arabic:

موجهات بيلاجيو-هارفارد بشأن الحدود القانونية للرق 2012

In Chinese:

关于界定奴役的法律要素的贝拉吉尔-哈佛准则

In French:

Guide Bellagio-Harvard des paramètres légaux pour une définition de l’esclavage

In Russian:

Принципы Гарварда-Белладжио о юридических критериях понятия рабства

In Spanish:

Directrices Bellagio-Harvard de 2012 Sobre los Parámetros Jurídicos de la Esclavitud


Members of the 2010-2012 Research Network on the Legal Parameters of Slavery:

Jean Allain, Queen’s University, Belfast

Kevin Bales, Free the Slaves

Annie Bunting, York University

John Cairns, University of Edinburgh

William M. Carter Jr., Temple University

Holly Cullen, University of Western Australia

Seymour Drescher, University of Pittsburgh

Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester

Paul Finkelman, Albany Law School

Bernard Freamon, Seton Hall University

Allison Gorsuch, Yale University

Robin Hickey, Durham University

Richard Helmholz, University of Chicago

Antony Honoré, University of Oxford

Aidan McQuade, Anti-Slavery International

Orlando Patterson, Harvard University

James Penner, University College, London

Joel Quirk, University of Witwatersrand

Jody Sarich, Free the Slaves

Rebecca Scott, University of Michigan