The Law Dictionary

Your Free Online Legal Dictionary • Featuring Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed.

How a Bill of Lading Makes the World Go Round

The world runs on trade. Everyday millions of goods are carried by trucks, trains and ships so that stores can sell goods, factories can manufacture products, and businesses can function. Without trade, the world economy would literally grind to a halt. However, with so many goods travelling vast distances, how do buyers and sellers ensure that those goods are safe or that they will arrive at their intended destinations? In the world of trade, a bill of lading is one document that helps secure goods and ensure that they get from point A to point B intact. Below is a brief look at what a bill of lading is and why it is so important.

What is a bill of lading?

A bill of lading is a legal document that shows that cargo has been received by a carrier for shipment. Sometimes abbreviated as B/L or BOL, a bill of lading is essentially a receipt that shows the carrier has received the cargo that is intended for shipment. The bill of lading also acts as a receipt for when the goods are delivered to the receiver. When the goods are received, the receiver uses the bill of lading to verify that all goods that were meant for shipment have in fact arrived. The bill of lading also helps ensure that the goods successfully make it from their origin to their destination.

What does a bill of lading look like?

The bill of lading includes vital information about the goods that are being shipped. Some of the information included on a bill of lading will be details about the type and quantity of the goods being shipped, as well as their destination. This information is important for helping the shipper, receiver, and carrier verify that the goods left their origin point and arrived at their destination intact and in full.

Why is a bill of lading important?

Because goods travel vast distances, shippers, receivers, and carriers need assurances that those goods will not be tampered with or stolen during their passage. A bill of lading is an extremely important document for verifying that goods have been shipped in full. Because a bill of lading must be signed by the shipper, carrier and receiver at various points during shipment, if at any point there is a discrepancy between the details of the goods listed on the bill of lading and what is actually received by the receiver or carrier, then it becomes easier to determine who may be responsible for that discrepancy.

Essentially, a bill of lading makes trade safer and more reliable. A bill of lading protects businesses from theft and also helps ensure that carriers can be trusted with the shipment of goods. As a result, a bill of lading also helps protect the reputation of all businesses involved in the shipment of goods. While a bill of lading is such a common document that it can appear a bit innocuous, the truth is that this little slip of paper has long helped ensure that global trade continues securely and efficiently.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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