Bill of Lading – Definition

Cite this article as:"Bill of Lading – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated March 1, 2019, last accessed December 4, 2020,


Bill of Lading (B/L) Definition

A bill of lading is a receipt that is issued when cargo is accepted for transportation. This receipt is issued to the shipper by a carrier or his agent, to mark a contract for the carriage of goods. When taking delivery of the cargo at its destination, this document must be presented since it proves the ownership of the cargo.

A Little More on What is a Bill of Lading

This document can be issued in two forms: negotiable or non-negotiable form. When the bill is issued in a negotiable form, it can be utilized in a letter of credit transaction. It may also be used as security for borrowing money or be traded. When one claims for compensation due to factors such as loss, damage or delay, he must have a bill of lading to prove ownership in the first place.

Any dispute regarding the ownership of cargo is usually resolved using a bill of lading. This document also contains the rights, responsibilities, and the liabilities of the carrier and the shipper which are generally governed by either the older Hague rules or the Hague-Visby rules which are more recent.

Some of the items contained in a bill of lading include:

  •         The name of the consignor and consignee
  •         The vessels name
  •         Departure and arrival dates
  •         The names of the ports of departure and destination
  •         A list of the goods to be transported together with the package numbers and the package method.
  •         The weight or volume of the cargo
  •         The rate of freight and the corresponding amount
  •         The marks or numbers on the packages.

References for Bill of Lading

Academic Research on Bill of Lading

Reconsideration on Bill of Lading as Document of Title-And on the Nature of the B/L [J], Hai, L. (1996). Annual of China Maritime Law, 1996-00. This paper presents a discussion on the meaning of ‘bill of lading as a document of title’ as described by the law.

Choice of Forum Clauses in Bills of Lading, Denning, S. M. (1970). J. Mar. L. & Com., 2, 17. This paper examines how the experiences in the English courts provide an instrumental background to view against the recent American assaults on the choice of forum clauses in bills of lading.

History and Development of the Bill of Lading, Murray, D. E. (1982). This article discusses the history of the bill of lading and how it has developed over time since the sixteenth century.

Evolution and present state of the Ocean Bill of Lading from a Banking Law Perspective, Kozolchyk, B. (1992). J. Mar. L. & Com., 23, 161. This paper uses the banking law to investigate how the bill of lading has evolved to its current state and how international businesses utilize it.

The Enforceability of Forum Selection Clauses in Maritime Bills of Lading: An Update, Waters, C. A. (1990). Tul. Mar. LJ, 15, 29. This paper investigates an exclusive forum usually stipulated by the parties that contract for the transport of goods to settle the disputes arising from the performance of these contracts.

Choice of law in Bills of lading, Asser, T. M. C. (1973). J. Mar. L. & Com., 5, 355. This article takes a look at the primary purpose of the Hague rules which was providing a balance between the interest of the parties to international maritime transport through the limited standardization of the rights of holders of the bill of ladings against the ship-owners and outlining the responsibilities of these ship-owners.

Forum Selection and Arbitration in the Draft Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea, or the Definition of Fora …, Hooper, C. D. (2008). Tex. Int’l LJ, 44, 417. This paper discusses the types of forums selected and arbitrated for the international carriage of goods during the draft convention.

Are Compulsory Arbitration Clauses in Consumer Contracts Enforceable-A Contractual Analysis, Alle-Murphy, L. (2002). Temp. L. Rev, 75, 125. This is an investigation into the enforceability of the compulsory arbitration clauses which are present in consumer contracts.

A law for international sale of goods, Bridge, M. (2007). Hong Kong LJ, 37, 17. This paper concentrates on the differences between two types of sales; sales when markets are stable and when they are volatile. It also assesses the suitability of two instruments in dealing with these instruments.

The problems and possibilities for using electronic bills of lading as collateral, Dubovec, M. (2005). Ariz. J. Int’l & Comp. L., 23, 437. In this article, it is argued that nonnegotiable transport documents cannot wholly displace the negotiable bill of lading and as a result the enactment of an electronic bill of lading laws is desirable.

The standardizing of contracts, Isaacs, N. (1917). The Yale Law Journal, 27(1), 34-48. This paper examines how the movement of progressive societies has translated into a change from status to contract.

What is a Clean Bill of Lading: A Problem in Financing International Trade, Draper, D. C. (1951). Cornell LQ, 37, 56. This paper investigates how the exporters in the US are unwilling to ship goods against the payment of delivery of the products in the foreign country and prefer that the goods are paid for when they are delivered for shipment to the carrier in the US.

Toward a computerized system for negotiating ocean bills of lading, Merges, R. P., & Reynolds, G. H. (1986). JL & Com., 6, 23. The authors acknowledge how there has been a remarkable degree of legal change adapting to economic conditions over time. However, when it comes to maritime law, the maritime bill of lading has not for all of modern history seen any innovation.

Formal aspects of a generic model of trust for electronic commerce, Tan, Y. H., & Thoen, W. (2002). Decision Support Systems, 33(3), 233-246. This paper explains how trust in transactions by an agent combines the confidence an agent has in the other party and the agent’s faith in the structure of control to aid in the trade being successful. The characteristic of this trust particularly relates to business-to-business e-commerce, where there are trading parties that usually have no prior awareness of one another before the actual trading. The authors present support for the belief that an agent’s trust in a control mechanism depends significantly on the agent’s understanding of the system. The authors provide a proper assessment of the required knowledge for the control mechanism to function and for deciding the intuitive degree of trust in e-commerce control mechanisms.

Electronic shipping documentation in China’s international supply chains, Mei, Z., & Dinwoodie, J. (2005). Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, 10(3), 198-205.  Personal relationships defined domestic trade before foreign trade was transformed by China’s opening and reform policy. International supply chains demand useful transfer documentation along with large cargo shipments. However, users of bills of lading in China experience fraud and delays more and more. This study examines the possibility of having a third-party, internet-based internet service provider supply electronic bills of lading and services for shipping documentation.

A logical model of transfer of obligations in trade contracts, Tan, Y. H., & Thoen, W. (1998). Accounting, Management and Information Technologies, 8(1), 23-38. Tan and Thoen present in this paper the design for a formal system that acts as a framework for Deontic Deep Structure Models for business contracts and procedures. The models can be used for the redesigning of paper-based processes into electronic processes for e-commerce. The proposed system combines action logic and deontic logic and can be used to analyze agent to agent transferable obligations. The authors assess the difference between transfer of liability of an obligation and transfer of agency.

Secure electronic bills of lading: blind counts and digital signatures, Pagnoni, A., & Visconti, A. (2010). Electronic Commerce Research, 10(3-4), 363-388. Electronic bills of lading and other electronic documents used in the system of the industry for goods delivery allow any payment and are vulnerable to frauds. Through their trade chains, unique private companies handle electronic bills of lading with paperless trading services. The model presented in this paper is designed to diminish the number of security risks and expects there to be a bank handling payment procedures and a trusted third party. The open protocol suggested addresses the disadvantages of the current propriety solutions.

Obstacles for the development of open electronic commerce, Bons, R. W., Lee, R. M., & Wagenaar, R. W. (1998). International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 2(3), 61-83. The authors believe that despite technological developments in communication and information, there are still unresolved issues. One is the minimizing of the need for establishing bilateral contracts before the exchange of the first electronic message. Another problem is the exchange of contractual documents and the commercial risk brought in to the picture by trades with unknown partners. This paper explains the results of research enabling the transfer of electronic legally binding documents or performatives.

Electronic Bills of Lading: A Never-Ending Story, Bury, D. A. (2016). Tul. Mar. LJ, 41, 197. Bury discusses the history of the bill of lading (BOL), provides a comparative look at past electronic BOL options and explains the transferability problem with the bills of lading as transferable documents of title.

The Bill of Lading contract and the transfer of property under Greek, English and United States law, Zekos, G. I. (1998). Managerial Law, 40(5), 5-28. This paper discusses the difference of the bill of lading between Greek law, in which goods ownership transferred from seller to buy when there was an intent to exchange goods supported by real delivery and US and UK law, in which no matter whether an actual delivery took place, sold goods passes from seller to buyer with just intentions to exchange. The paper that far more than national legal differences, it causes issues in international trade.

Backward vertical FDI, Sutherland, J., & Canwell, D. (2004). This paper discusses backward vertical foreign direct investment which happens when an international business makes a direct input or investment into another country’s domestic operations. The article also discusses the balance of payments, which is a statistical summation of international transfers of ownership of goods or services with monetary value and one country’s economy compared to the rest of the world.

A Discussion and Analysis of the Bill of Lading as a Document of Title, Biswas, L. (2011). This paper acknowledges that the bill of lading is considered one vital component in international commercial trade and attempts to show that the document is a bundle of various titles, such as title to possession, title to sue, and so forth.

Shipping and the Law on Bills of Lading and Charter Parties, Djadjev, I. (2017). In The Obligations of the Carrier Regarding the Cargo (pp. 1-30). Springer, Cham. This chapter serves as a reference point of general shipping knowledge. It discusses agreement of carriage, other related documentation for transportation, and the parties involved in the contract. The author considers the chapter as a handbook on charter party law and bills of lading, as it provides a summary of common maritime commercial trade.


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