In May 2017 the European Union (EU) re-granted Sri Lanka better access to its market through the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+). The preferences are conditional on Sri Lanka advancing human and labour rights, to which the Island Nation’s National Unity Government has committed through a far-reaching reform agenda since 2015.
DRI’s first round of district-level outreach sessions was conducted across the Island including Matale City, Ekala, Batticaloa City, Chenkaladi, Trincomalee City, Kanthale, Mannar City, Ibbagamuwa, Polpithigama, Medirigiriya, Diyabeduma, and Panama.[/caption]
One year since the deal was agreed between the EU and the Sri Lankan government, many of the reforms have stalled and civil society out of Colombo is still only learning what GSP+ offers as a tool to monitor the human and labour rights situation in the country and enter into dialogue with both national and international stakeholders on how to improve human rights protection in Sri Lanka.
DRI continues to address the need for more information on the GSP+ scheme among grass-roots actors and conducted twelve awareness sessions between 7 July and 15 August 2018 on “The Link between GSP+, Human Rights and Labour Rights”. With its workshops, DRI reached a total of 297 Sinhala and Tamil speaking local activists representing various community-based organizations across eight districts in various provinces.
The sessions clarified that Sri Lanka and all other GSP+ countries have entered voluntarily into the scheme and their governments therefore fully signed up to implementing international conventions that protect their citizens’ rights. One participant stressed: “We were not aware of the GSP+’s link to human rights, but were rather thinking that GSP+ was just related to the garment industry’s tariffs. This insight opens new avenues for us as activists to demand compliance from the government.”
Civil society representatives voiced their concerns and observations regarding the status of human and labour rights in the country. In all districts, people were concerned about the lack of economic, social and cultural rights for many communities in Sri Lanka.
DRI will expand its work around GSP+ in Sri Lanka by training civil society groups on human rights monitoring and reporting against Sri Lanka’s commitments. During a critical time of slow reform progress and even setbacks in the country, it is important to have rural community representatives be part of a wider monitoring network to help advance the well-being of Sri Lankans across the Island.