Supreme Court of Zambia, Civil jurisdiction, Standard Chartered Bank Zambia Limited v. Peter Zulu and 118 others, 13 November 1997, No. 59 of 1996


Forced labour

Use of international law as a guide for interpreting domestic law

Ratified treaties;1 Non-ratified treaty2

Transfer of employment contracts from one company to another without seeking the employees' consent/ Company convicted of forced labour in appeal proceedings/ Recognition of ILO Conventions by the Supreme Court as a source for interpreting the Zambian Constitution/ Use of international law as a guide for interpreting domestic law

The employees of the bank had taken legal action when their employment contracts were transferred to another employer without their consent. The Court of Appeal held that a transfer of this nature contravened Article 14 of the Zambian Constitution, which prohibited forced labour, as well as the ILO Conventions which Zambia had ratified.

The company instituted proceedings before the Supreme Court of Zambia, which had to decide inter alia on the legality of this reference to international Conventions:

 “Zambia has ratified some of these conventions but for them to become part of our laws they must satisfy the conditions laid down in the Constitution (…). The conventions which have been ratified may have a bearing on interpretation of Article 14(2) of the Constitution. It talks about forced labour. Article 14(2) provides:

“A person shall not be required to perform forced labour.”

The article has attempted to define “forced labour” but an occasion may arise when the definition may not cover new situations and it may be necessary or desirable to look at conventions to which Zambia is a member for guidance.”

Having concluded that international law could be a source of law for interpreting the Constitution, the Supreme Court of Zambia dismissed the applicant’s argument concerning reference to international law.


1 ILO Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, 1957 (No. 105); ILO Convention on Employment Policy, 1964 (No. 122); ILO Convention on Termination of Employment, 1982 (No. 158).

2 ILO Convention on Accommodation of Crews (Revised), 1949 (No. 92).

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