The 2012 Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery provided the definitional breakthrough as to what is meant by the term ‘slavery’ in the contemporary context, where abolition has taken place and legal slavery no longer exists.
The Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines develop an understanding of the 1926 definition of slavery – the definition accepted by the international community of States – by laying fundamental emphasis on control. In so doing, the Guidelines are both faithful to the property paradigm in which definition was cast; and they capture the lived experience of those who find themselves forced into modern slavery. The Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery point the way by allowing a determination as to whether slavery exists by asking the question: was control tantamount to possession exercised?
The Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines are the outcome of collaboration amongst the leading experts in property law and slavery – both historical and contemporary. The Research Network on the Legal Parameters of Slavery was an inter-disciplinary group which brought together practitioners and scholars, including the such iconic names as Kevin Bales, Stanley Engerman, Orlando Patterson, and Antony Honoré, to advance an understanding of the 1926 definition, which 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’.
The development of the Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery was the result of a 2009 United Kingdom Arts & Humanities Research Council Grant. The Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines receive their fullest expression in the 2012 book : Jean Allain (ed.) The Legal Understanding of Slavery: From the Historical to the Contemporary, published by Oxford University Press.
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