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The Definition of Slavery

Until very recently the 1926 definition of slavery had not been utilised by courts of law. Research undertaken by Professor Jean Allain has helped to provide a definitive legal definition of slavery and has changed the way courts around the world apply the law of slavery. The AHRC funded project “The Definition of Slavery: Contemporary Relevance and Legal Certainty” allowed Professor Allain to create a network of academics and practitioners, and lead them in developing the Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines. These guidelines are now a benchmark for anti-slavery lobbying around the world.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights © 2016

Initially created with the intention of assisting judges in slavery related cases, the Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines have achieved much more. Professor Allain assisted judges by given expert evidence on the definition of slavery at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The guidelines have also informed the UK Modern Slavery Act, 2015. Further, the guidelines are now used as a central template by NGO’s in their lobbying and advocacy work. Free the Slaves, the leading US-based anti-slavery organisation and Anti-Slavery International, the world’s oldest human rights organisation, both use Professor Allain’s legal definition of slavery in their anti-slavery activism around the globe.

Walk Free, a global movement with the goal of ending slavery, also use Professor Allain’s research in their work to document occurrences of slavery worldwide. The movement is supported by philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson, and seeks to eradicate slavery in our life-time. Walk Free have adopted the Bellagio-Harvard guidelines as its working definition of slavery and have produced the annual Global Slavery Index, which estimates the prevalence of slavery in over 167 countries. The index is intended to be used by NGO’s, businesses and public officials to understand the size of the problem, existing responses and contributing factors, so they can develop sound policies that will end modern slavery.

Professor Allain giving evidence before the Inter-American Court. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights © 2016

The Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines also help to inform decisions regarding the allocation of the Global Fund for the Eradication of Slavery, which has commitments of over $2 billion. The fund will be used to back anti-slavery groups and to support governments and activists in defeating modern-day slavery.

Professor Allain is one of four investigators who recently received £1.85 million from AHRC for another project The Antislavery Usable Past, which includes funding to translate and disseminate the guidelines into the five United Nations languages.

For more information on the project visit: Project Website

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