More trade, more rights: how Sri Lankan civil society monitors GSP+ compliance

Sri Lanka benefits from better access to the EU market under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), under which Sri Lankan companies can export goods with no custom duties to the EU. In return, the Sri Lankan government committed itself to better protect the human rights of its people in line with 27 international conventions. The EU will launch its next report on this compliance in January 2020. Sri Lankan civil society is naturally interested in Sri Lankans enjoying their rights and is preparing to contribute to the EU’s reporting. They will provide first-hand, grassroots information on the respect for these rights and their violations in the form of an alternative report and engage in conversation with Sri Lankan officials, politicians and others about the country’s compliance.

Bringing in technical know-how and comparative expertise, DRI has supported a network of 75 civil society representatives and activists representing all 25 districts in Sri Lanka to make most use of the opportunity to improve the lives of Sri Lankans by reporting on progress and shortcomings in the protection of their human and labour rights.

DRI organised two trainings for Sinhala and Tamil speaking groups on 12 January 2019 and on 11 February 2019 in Colombo to build the capacity of civil society to use GSP+ as a monitoring and advocacy tool. In particular, DRI helped honing participants’ understanding of relevant human and labour conventions, ways to monitor them on a local level through different data collection methods, ethical standards when collecting data and how they can effectively organise themselves based on a Monitoring and Reporting Plan that was jointly prepared during the workshops.

During the workshops, the civil society representatives and activists from across Sri Lanka exchanged on the key rights areas they want to monitor, including the neglected or unresolved issue of Sri Lankans working in the plantation sector who are seen to be deprived of the right to land, housing, and equal wages. One participant stressed the need to “raise awareness of the link between GSP+ and human and labour rights specifically among small scale producers and exporters as a strategy to influence the government to protect international human rights and labour standards”.

Following the workshop, the participants have reached out to local constituencies to discuss the human and labour rights situation in their communities and collect data on rights violations. Since March 2019, DRI continues supporting these groups through field visits and ongoing technical support.

This project is funded by the European Union.

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