Phenomenon of forced labor in Bangladesh and constitutional guarantee to protect it- illustrate and explain.


Forced labor is any work or services which people are forced to do against their will under the threat of some form punishment.  Almost all slavery practices, including trafficking in people and bonded labor, contain some element of forced labor.

From the very beginning of civilization the rights of laborers have been ignored and laborers have had a lack of awareness of their own rights. Laborers are deprived of all kind of rights, all over the world. In a poor country like Bangladesh, the situation is more extreme where the labors are forced to do work against their will.

However, The Constitution prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children but the Government did not enforce this prohibition effectively. The Factories Act and Shops and Establishments Act established inspection mechanisms to enforce laws against forced labor, but these laws were not enforced rigorously, partly because resources for enforcement were scarce. There was no bonded or forced labor in large-scale enterprises; nevertheless, numerous domestic servants, including many children, worked in conditions that resembled servitude and many suffered physical abuse, sometimes resulting in death.

From time to time, human rights organizations raised their voice against the issue of forced labor but few actions ever taken to enforce the law. Bangladeshi people have 23 fundamental rights under the Constitution of Bangladesh, Part 3, Articles 26 to 47A and in article34 All forms of forced labor are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

Though the constitution prohibits forced labor by law, in practical the poor people who only crave for the work have no idea about the law and the rich employer class people exploit the cheap labor without paying properly and force the poor people to do job as they left few choice. The constitution of Bangladesh ensures the fundamental rights of it’s people but in reality it is only limited in the book of constitution and the poor labor class people have no option left but to do the job offered by the employer.

Phenomenon of forced labor in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is country where the labor class people are considered the most poor class and most of them live under the poverty line. The economic situation is not strong enough to provide job for its citizen. Therefore the supply of labor force always exceeds the demand of labor force. As a result, the employer class people have the opportunity to exploit the labor and enjoy the negotiation power during employment and force the labor to do job against their will. Most of the time they are forced to do job or underpaid. The problem is acute in rural place where the economy is weaker.

Tens of thousands of people are working as bonded laborers in rural Bangladesh even though it is illegal, entire families, including children, are bonded to their employers while they struggle to pay back loans. Thousands of children are being forced into bonded labor every day because of poverty and their parents’ unemployment and the biggest tragedy is that it all seems to go unnoticed. According to Anti-Slavery International, bonded labor – or debt bondage – is probably the least-known form of slavery and yet the most widely used method of enslaving people.

Although rare in urban Bangladesh, bonded labor is common in rural areas. Unlike in cities where workers are paid a daily or fixed wage, the rural workforce mostly has to make verbal arrangements for wages, which are often manipulated by unscrupulous landlords and loan sharks, known as Mahajan. Still another way to become bonded is being forced to take out a loan due to a temporary financial crisis, often caused or aggravated by a poor harvest or family emergency. Once bonded, the laborer is then forced to work long hours for little or no pay, often seven days a week. Many, mostly women and children, end up as domestic servants, working in conditions that resemble servitude. Many suffer physical abuse, sometimes resulting in death

.In 1972, Bangladesh ratified both ILO Convention No. 29 (1930), the Forced Labor Convention and ILO Convention No. 105 (1957), the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention.
The law prohibits forced or bonded labor and the Factories Act and Shops and Establishments Act provide for inspection mechanisms to strengthen laws against forced labor. Forced labor has been present in Bangladesh for centuries. After the liberation of Bangladesh, it changed its form and has taken the new face of various ‘contracts’ associated with loans taken by poor farmers from the usurers.

Prohibition of forced labor by constitution:

The Law of Bangladesh is primarily in accordance with the English legal system although since 1947, the legal scenario and the laws of Bangladesh have drifted far from the West owing to differences in socio-cultural values and religious guidelines. In November 2007, Bangladesh has successfully separated the Judiciary from the Executive but several black laws still influence the rulers in creating Special Tribunals in using several black laws including the Special Powers Act.

Among its various law the constitution of Bangladesh clearly stated in its Article 34 that
1. All forms of forced labor are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.
2. Nothing in this article shall apply to compulsory labor.

  1. by persons undergoing lawful punishment for a criminal offence; or
  2. required by any law for public purpose.

In 1972, Bangladesh ratified both ILO Convention No. 29 (1930), the Forced Labor Convention and ILO Convention No. 105 (1957), the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention.

The law prohibits forced or bonded labor and the Factories Act and Shops and Establishments Act provide for inspection mechanisms to strengthen laws against forced labor.

Punishments for committing the crime of forced labor

 The act of committing the crime of forced labor is punishable under the current law prevailing in the country. The punishment can contains  imprisonment or monetary fine or both at the same time depending of the situation and the justice of the judge.

Bangladesh’s Penal Code, (Act No. XLV of 1860), contains several sections, namely sections 359-374, which both criminalize and provide for the punishment of offenses related to kidnapping, abduction, slavery, and forced labor. There is a vast disparity in punishments for such crimes, ranging from the payment of a fine to death. For example, the penalty for committing the crime of forced labor under the Penal Code is: “imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”This is a relatively lenient penalty as the perpetrator may get off with only having to pay a fine for forcing an individual to perform labor—seemingly undermining the importance of forced labor being the one aspect of human trafficking explicitly mentioned and prohibited by the Constitution.

Although there are laws against the force labor and also different types of punishment for committing the crime of forced labor, in reality most of the time it has no effect. The poor labor class people are not organized to protest and more importantly they are not educated to realize how they are being forced and the prevailing law against the force labor. As a result, this matter has been remained unnoticed for generation to generation. The government even seems to have little interest to bring the matter in focus as the regulatory bodies are the class of people who enjoy the benefit of force labor.

The ILO and Forced Labor

The ILO was founded in 1919 with a mandate to develop international labor standards and promote their ratification and implementation. In 1946, it became a specialized agency of the United Nations. It has a unique, tripartite structure consisting of representatives of governments, employers and workers. The International Conference meets once a year and adopts new international labor standards.

The ILO has been concerned with forced labor from its earliest years. Amid growing Condemnation of the use of forced labor for public works by colonial governments, the ILO Governing Body appointed a Committee of Experts on Native Labor in 1926.The eventual result was the Forced Labor Convention (No. 29), which was   1930 and entered into force in 1932. Article 2 of the Forced Labor Convention defines “forced or compulsory labor” as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. The Forced Labor Convention was the first and until 1999 the only – ILO Convention to require criminalization of a prohibited labor practice.

In 1998, the ILO adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rightsat Work in order to strengthen the application of four fundamental principles. The Declaration commits member states to respect these principles regardless of whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions. The elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor and the effective abolition of child labor are among the fundamental principles listed in the Declaration. In November 2001, as part of its effort to promote the Declaration, the ILO Governing Body created the Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labor (SAP-FL). SAP-FL conducts research and carries out technical assistance activities in the field of forced labor.

Fundamental Rights In Bangladesh

The Fundamental Rights are defined as the basic human rights of all citizens. These rights, defined in the Constitution, apply irrespective of race, place of birth, religion, caste, creed or gender. They are enforceable by the courts, subject to specific restrictions.

Bangladeshi people have 23 fundamental rights under the Constitution of Bangladesh, Part 3, Articles 26 to 47A. The Fundamental Rights in Bangladesh under below:

   1. Laws inconsistent with fundamental rights to be void (Article-26)

   2. Equality before law (Article-27)

   3. Discrimination on grounds of religion, etc. (Article-28)

   4. Equality of opportunity in public employment (Article-29)

   5. Prohibition of foreign titles, etc. (Article-30)

   6. Right to protection of law (Article-31)

   7. Protection of right to life and personal liberty (Article-32)

   8. Safeguards as to arrest and detention (Article-33)

   9. Prohibition of forced labor (Article-34)

  10. Protection in respect of trial and punishment (Article-35)

  11. Freedom of movement (Article-36)

  12. Freedom of assembly (Article-37)

  13. Freedom of association (Article-38)

  14. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech (Article-39)

  15. Freedom of profession or occupation (Article-40)

  16. Freedom of religion (Article-41)

  17. Rights of property (Article-42)

  18. Protection of home and correspondence (Article-43)

  19. Enforcement of fundamental rights (Article-44)

  20. Modification of rights in respect of disciplinary law (Article-45)

  21. Power to provide indemnity (Article-46)

  22. Saving for certain laws (Article-47)

  23. Inapplicability of certain articles (Article-47A)

Evaluation of force labor in relation to fundamental rights

A work relationship should be freely chosen and free from threats. The Constitution of Bangladesh does not explicitly provide for the right to healthy environment either in the directive principles or as a fundamental right. Article 31 states that every citizen has the right to protection from ‘action detrimental to the life liberty, body, reputation, or property’, unless these are taken in accordance with law. It added that the citizens and the residents of Bangladesh have the inalienable right to be treated in accordance with law. If these rights are taken away, compensation must be paid. Article 32 states: “No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty saves in accordance with law”. These two articles together incorporate the fundamental ‘right to life’.

Forced or compulsory labor, which is work or service any person is required to do involuntarily, continues to be practiced in Bangladesh especially in village where people are mostly burdened by the debt even they are forced to sell their organs which clearly break the basic fundamental rights of living. In most cases, female workers are employed in low paid jobs and are seldom promoted. Disparity in the remuneration of male and female workers, for work of equal value, continues to be a major concern as well but in the constitution it talks about equality.

Workers are entitled to a safe and healthy working environment. But every year, millions of workers in the country continue to die or become disabled for life, through industrial accidents and industrial diseases. This only enhances the argument that employers put profits before safety and health of their employees, and governments adopt a lackadaisical attitude towards the issue. Most of the workers are forced to do the risky job without being taken adequate safety measures by the employer. As a result, accident occurs and the labors rights to have a safety workplace breaches which is again against the fundamental human rights.

Conclusion: Forced labor is punishable under the current law of our country as well as all over the world. The constitution of Bangladesh talks against the forced labor but the current law enforcement body are not doing enough to stop forced labor. The rich employer class continues to exploit the cheap labor and force them to work without their reasonable will. The work environment, wage, safety etc are not properly paid by the employer which is also breaching the fundamental rights written in the constitution.


1.Const. of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh., art. 34,  1 (1972), available at

2.Penal Code, Act No. XLV of 1860, §§ 359-374 (1860), available at\

3.Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act, Act No. VI of 1933, (1933), available at

4.Bangladesh Human Rights Report. Retrieved from

5.The Constitution of Bangladesh. Part- 3, Article- 26 to 47A.

6.Paul-Majumder. (2006). “Children Victim of Labor, Torture, Violence and Trafficking: Perspective of

Bangladesh”, Bangladesh Development Studies, BIDS, Dhaka, V-XXIII, pp.1-25.

7.Employment of Labor (standing order) Act 1965, Section 9.