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Trail Sri Lanka: Pressure by the International Community may have made a difference?


Photo courtesy Iromi Perera

Some argue that International pressure will not change Sri Lanka for the better; however, recent evidence reveals the contrary.

D.B.S Jeyaraj in a recent blog post argued that international pressure could not encourage progressive change in Sri Lanka. As he stated, “I don’t want to speculate about the possible turns and twists in International relations concerning Sri Lanka because I know there will be no real big change whatever the current excitement”.

However, the recent Trail Sri Lanka fundraising initiative, which has slowly gained momentum on the Island, over the last few weeks, seems to disprove Jeyaraj’s pessimism. Trail was initiated by an international non-governmental organization Colors of Courage Trust, which is based in the United States. The international effort has successfully gained a strong Sri Lankan corporate backing.  It has MAS Holding, one of Sri Lanka’s largest garment manufacturing companies, as a prominent sponsor.

I joined one of the smaller zones in Colombo, which ran from Panedura to Galle Face Beach. I was amazed to find several hundred individuals walking, donning Trail memorabilia in the shape of hats and t-shirts, while collecting donations from neighboring stores. Participants were predominantly from Sri Lanka’s corporate sector. I found myself amongst many employees of MAS Holding.

The initiative has arisen in the midst of the recent international campaign to “Boycott Sri Lankan Garments”. The boycott attested that Sri Lanka manufactured “blood garments”. It argued the revenue from international export was utilized to pay for harmful atrocities in the North-East by the Sri Lankan government. The boycott explicitly advocated against the purchase of Victoria Secret garments, which is largely manufactured by MAS Holding. Leaving one to wonder; whether MAS Holding’s sponsorship of Trail is to disprove the boycott. Regardless, one thing is clear; international organizations have the potential to encourage progressive post-war development on the Island. Colors of Courage Trust have proven this much. The international initiative has thrust Sri Lanka’s corporate actors into a world of volunteerism, which is not common in Sri Lanka.

However, criticism isn’t non-existent. Some see it as a publicity stunt, making re-development efforts fashionable; whereas others do not see Trail’s efforts as truly meeting the long-term needs of the communities in the North. Can there really be progressive development, without accountability for the atrocities of the past?

Yet, as I took in the Trail t-shirts, the truck filled to the brim with Trail donation boxes, the smiles, and enthusiasm; I thought, at least volunteerism for a good cause has become more attractive on the Island. Also, it’s being sponsored by some of Sri Lanka’s biggest corporations; including corporations that have been targeted by a discontent and concerned international community.

MAS Holdings physical and fiscal support can be viewed as assurance that powerful forces in Sri Lanka consciously, or unconsciously, are reacting to the pleas of a concerned International community.