Unlawful Compulsory Labour – Section 374 IPC

Unlawful Compulsory Labour

Section 374, IPC is intended to check the practice of forced labour. It makes unlawful compulsory labour an offence. It is in accordance with article 23 of the Constitution of India thereby prohibiting beggary and forced labour in human beings. The underlying principle is that no man can be unlawfully forced to labour against his will.   

The ingredients of section 374 are as follows:-

  1. There must be a compulsion for labour
  2. The compulsion must be unlawful.

Where this compulsory labour is authorised by law, such compulsion will be lawful. The Supreme Court in State of Gujarat v Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat[1], held that a prisoner sentenced to rigorous imprisonment cannot complain that the jail authorities committed the offence of unlawful compulsory labour u/s 374, IPC by compelling him to do work during the term of his imprisonment.[2]

In People’s Union for Democratic Rights v Union of India[3], also known as Asiad case, the Supreme Court held that a deduction of Rs.1/- per worker per day by the jamadars from the wages payable to the workers employed by the contractors for the ASIAD project is unlawful. Since the workers did not get the minimum wages of Rs 9.25 per day, it amounts to a violation of article 23 of the Constitution and is forced labour.[4] Every form of forced labour, beggar or otherwise, is unlawful compulsory labour within the inhibition of article 23. It makes no difference whether the person who is forced to give his labour or service to another is remunerated or not.[5]

 International Conventions on Forced Labour

  • Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951

It was adopted at 34th ILC session. It came into force on 29 Jun 1951. The Convention aims at equal remuneration for equal work to men and women equally. Each state party shall accomplish this objective be enacting domestic legislation, collective bargaining agreements and make arrangements for wage determination.

  • Minimum Age Convention, 1973

The Convention was adopted at 58th ILC session, Geneva. It came into force on 19th June 1976. According to Article 2, the ratifying states are required to adopt a policy intended to ascertain eradication of child labour and specify a minimum age for admission to employment or work within its territory.[6]The minimum age shall not be less than 15 years (article 2) whereas the minimum age for admission to any type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardise the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years (article 3).[7]

  • Right to Organise And Collective Bargaining, 1939

It was adopted at 32nd ILC session, Geneva. It came into force on 18 July 1951. Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment (article 2) and against any acts of interference by each other or each other’s agents or members in their establishment, functioning or administration (article 3).[8]

Position in United States

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 2000 amended subsequently in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2013 read with section 1589 of the US Code constitute the backbone of forced labour laws in the US. 

Position in United Kingdom

Till 2009, cases of forced labour could only be prosecuted under other umbrella offences. Most notable among them was human trafficking. The stand-alone offence of subjecting someone to forced labour without having to establish trafficking was introduced under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and the (Scottish) Criminal Justice and Licensing Act 2010.[9] Forced labour is also an offence under labour provider licensing, through the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004.[10]In recent times, the UK government has passed the Modern Slavery Act for the prevention and prosecution of modern slavery and the protection of victims. Any business or part of a business that has a global turnover of £36m or more and supplies goods or services in the UK will have to produce and publish an annual slavery and trafficking statement in a “prominent” place on its website every year.[11] The statement must set out what steps the organisation has taken to ensure there is no slavery in any part of its business, including its supply chains. Foreign companies and subsidiaries that “carry on a business” in the UK will also have to comply with the new legislation.

Position in Pakistan

Five labour policies were announced by the Pakistan government in 1955, 1949, 1969, 1972, 2002 and 2010. But all of them have been very poorly implemented. Part-II of the Constitution of Pakistan contains provisions relating to labour rights i.e., Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy. Article 11 of the Constitution prohibits all forms of slavery, forced labour and child labour; article 17 provides for a fundamental right to exercise the freedom of association and the right to form unions; article 18 describes the right of its citizens to enter upon any lawful profession or occupation and to conduct any lawful trade or business; article 25 lays down the right to equality before the law and prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex alone; article 37(e) makes provision for securing just and humane conditions of work, ensuring that children and women are not employed in vocations unsuited to their age or sex, and for maternity benefits for women in employment; and article 38 seeks socio-economic well-being of the people by raising their standard of living through adequate livelihood with reasonable rest and leisure.[12] There is also a separate legislation of The Bonded Labour Act, 1992 on the subject matter. 

Position in China

In 2007 China enacted the 1994 Labour Law, the Labour Contract Law, the Law on Mediation and Arbitration of Labour Disputes, and the Labour Promotion Law. The goal is to accomplish “social harmony” and put an end to the rampant abuse of workers especially those who had no contracts and henceforth were not entitled to any right.

Illustration 1

A, a 13-year-old girl had to drop out of school due to poverty. She was brought from a village to city to work as a domestic worker. There were 10 members in the family. The house was very big much more than that she saw in her village. She was asked to do everything in the house like cleaning, washing, feeding the dogs, and gardening. She used to wake up at 4 in the morning and work till 9:00 am when she used to stop for a few minutes for breakfast. Thereafter she continued to work till 9:00 pm. No lunch was given to her. Only 2 meals per day. The food which she ate were leftovers from her employer and their children. Not only this, she was physically assaulted at times.

Illustration 2

X, a 19 years old girl was taken from her home country to work as a domestic servitude for an affluent family of Africa. She was forced to work 19 hours a day, only allowed out of the apartment to take the family’s children to school, offered leftovers to eat and was threatened, insulted and debased by her employer.[13]

Illustration 3

W, a woman of 50 years used an employment agency to get work. He husband was very sick and incapable of earning. She was sent to Qatar. But the family was paying less than agreed in the contract and refusing to give a day off.

 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What does forced labour mean?

Forced labour refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.[14]

  1. What is forced bonded labour?

Bonded labour, a long-term relationship between employer and employee, is usually solidified through a loan and is embedded intricately in India’s socio-economic culture—a culture that is a product of class relations, a colonial history, and persistent poverty among many citizens.[15] Also known as debt bondage, bonded labour is a specific form of forced labour in which compulsion into servitude is derived from debt.[16]

  1. What is forced child labour?

That work which deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development is called child labour. In other words, it refers to” a work which:

  • is mental, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
  • interferes with their schooling by:
  • depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
  • obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
  • requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.”[17]
  1. How can we stop forced labour?

Mike Dottridge (Former Director of Anti-Slavery International) at the public hearing on the social clause: Human rights promotion or protectionism? has concluded his presentation with the following suggestions:-

  • “The standards must be clear and unambiguous;
  • There must be clear ways of measuring standards, both periodic reporting mechanisms, complaints mechanisms and a capacity to mount impartial investigations;
  • When forced labour is found to be occurring, the government concerned should be pressed to adopt a plan of action to remedy the situation; failure to implement this should result in a series of actions by the international community along an incremental scale;
  • Once forced labour is believed to be occurring, the possibility of punitive actions should be counterbalanced by the possibility of tariff or other incentives for goods which are known to have been produced without unacceptable exploitation;
  • The pressure by the international community should not only be trade-related; however, in the face of intransigence, it can potentially involve refusing exports made by forced labour or even wider trade or aid-related sanctions.”[18]

 Edited by – Sakshi Agarwal

Quality Check – Ankita Jha

Approved & Published by –  Sakshi Raje


[1] AIR 1998 SC 3164: JT 1988 (7) SC 530: (1998) 5 SCALE 410: 1998 Cr LJ 4561.

[2]K.D.Gaur, Textbook on Indian Penal Code, (5th edition, Universal Law Publication, 2015) at pg- 682.

[3] AIR 1982 SC 1646: (1982) 2 SCC 494: 1982 UJ 553: (1982) 1 SCALE 817.

[4]Supra note 2.


[6] C138 – Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138). Retrieved on 12/09/18 from  https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C138.


[8] C098 – Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98). Retrieved on 13/09/18 from https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312243.  

[9] Alistair Geddes et al, Forced Labour in the UK, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 27th Jun 2013. Retrieved on 10/08/18 from https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/forced-labour-uk.


[11] Annie Kelly, The UK’s new slavery laws explained: what do they mean for business?,The Guardian, 14th Dec 2015. Retrieved on 10/08/18 from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/dec/14/modern-slavery-act-explained-business-responsibility-supply-chain.  

[12] Murtaza Talpur, Forced labour in Pakistan, Daily Times, 15th May 2018. Retrieved on 10/08/18 from https://dailytimes.com.pk/240092/forced-labour-in-pakistan/.

[13] Trafficking for forced labour: Diane’s story, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the Commissioner. Retrieved on 28/09/18 from https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/TraffickingforforcedlabourDianesstory.aspx.

[14] The meanings of Forced Labour, the International Labour Organization. Retrieved on 10/08/18 from http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/news/WCMS_237569/lang–en/index.htm

[15] Devin Finn, Bonded Labour in India, Topical Research Digest: Human Rights And Contemporary Slavery. Retrieved on 10/08/18 from https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/slavery/india.pdf.  


[17] What is child labour, International Labour Organization? Retrieved on 10/08/18 from http://www.ilo.org/ipec/facts/lang–en/index.htm.

[18] Mike Dottridge, The Social Clause – a Solution to Forced Labour and Bonded Labour?, European Parliament. Retrieved on 11/08/18 from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/hearings/19970617/droi/doc8_en.htm.

Soma Sarkar
I am Soma Sarkar from Chanakya National Law University, Patna pursuing BA LLB (Hons.). My areas of interest include Criminal laws and Arbitration laws. I have a passion for research and legal writing. I am also an active member of Legal Aid Cell of my college and also member of Eucotopia, the environmental group of my college. My goal is to become an arbitrator.