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Slavery and Its Definition

Jean Allain

Monash University - Faculty of Law; University of Pretoria - Centre for Human Rights

Kevin Bales

University of Roehampton; WISE - U. of Hull

August 3, 2012

Global Dialogue, Volume 14, Number 2; Summer/Autumn 2012
Queen's University Belfast Law Research Paper No. 12-06

The very term ‘slavery’ and its contours are contested despite the fact that an agreed to international definition of slavery was existed since in 1926. It 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.

From the 1930s until recently, the general outlook towards the legal definition of slavery has been a negative one: why it is not applicable to cases of slavery.

Spurred on in 2008 by a determination of the highest court in Australia, that the legal definition was applicable to contemporary cases of de facto slavery; a group of property scholars and experts in slavery set about unpacking those powers attaching to the right of ownership. Much to their surprise, there is no true gap existing between a legal reading of ownership and the factual circumstances of contemporary enslavement.

This article speaks to that group’s findings by setting out an internally consistent reading of that definition within its property paradigm that reflects the lived experience of contemporary slaves. As a result, the definition provides the type of legal certainty which is fundamental to any prosecution of contemporary slavery: within an ordinary reading of its terms, based as it is on a property paradigm, it captures the factual reality of slavery.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 16

Keywords: slavery, law

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Date posted: August 4, 2012 ; Last revised: August 15, 2012

Suggested Citation

Allain, Jean and Bales, Kevin, Slavery and Its Definition (August 3, 2012). Global Dialogue, Volume 14, Number 2; Summer/Autumn 2012; Queen's University Belfast Law Research Paper No. 12-06. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2123155

Contact Information

Jean Allain (Contact Author)
Monash University - Faculty of Law ( email )
Wellington Road
Clayton, Victoria 3800

University of Pretoria - Centre for Human Rights ( email )
Private Bag X20
Hatfield 0028
South Africa
Kevin Bales
University of Roehampton ( email )
1012 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
United States
202 638 1865 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.freetheslaves.net
WISE - U. of Hull
United Kingdom
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