21st January 2001
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Save the business and the child

Corporate responsibility with a social child rights Perspective 

Corporate responsibility is gradually getting closer to the hearts of Sri Lanka's business community as social responsibility becomes a part of the country's business culture. Several companies - big and small - have channelled financial and human resources towards projects involving society and the people. Involvement in childrens' issues, their rights and responsibilities including the right to education are becoming part and parcel of the corporate sector as children represent the future of this country. The role of the corporate sector and the need for activism in childrens' issues was the theme of a presentation by an eminent child rights activist at a breakfast meeting of the Sri Lanka Institute of Directors (SLID) in Colombo last week. Gro Braekken, Secretary General of Save the Children, Norway - one of the world's biggest child rights' agenciesa emphasised the need for greater support from Sri Lanka's corporate community towards issues concerning children in the country. The Norwegian expert also has a corporate background, being a former deputy director-general of the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry for five years before joining Save the Children. She also worked extensively in the business sector including a stint at Shell.

Here are excerpts of her address:

With the revolution in communication and information technology, we witness the rapid growth and spread in market economies and free trade. But at the same time there is a rising concern for many unsolved problems on the national and international agendas including poverty, corruption, environmental challenges and the abuse of human rights and children's rights.

In a globalizing world, corporate social responsibility becomes more important, but also far more complex. The individual company may be situated in many different countries, often with very different types of operation, and involved with numerous customers, partners and subcontractors. Globalization has therefore expanded the number of stakeholders far beyond the community in which an enterprise has its headquarters. In the global village, information about company behaviour and focus from media is readily available from anywhere to anywhere.

There are many driving forces behind the increased corporate engagement in different aspects of corporate, social responsibility and companies relates different to this issue. Some take an active stand, developing their own codes of conduct to meet the social or environmental challenges. Others might limit their involvement to more random financial contributions.

If not for any other reason, no business operation wants to see its reputation or product brand being damaged by any accident or negative occurrence, or the possible pressure or boycott organized by powerful international or national organisations.

Negative occurrences aside, but also related to corporate image, recent research has shown that 50% of consumers will switch brand or company, if otherwise similar in quality, if one brand is connected to a profiled social responsibility issue.

Conditions under which the companies work are often dramatically different from country to country. There are political differences in the understanding of human rights, labour and environmental standards, as well as differences in the understanding of the role of the state, the role of civil society and corporations. It is therefore difficult to find any common ground on which, companies throughout the world, or even in any given country, can engage in social commitment and responsibilities.

However difficult to find common ground, in relation to children there is one important area where most countries have found common ground and committed themselves to the same obligations. These are the obligations expressed in the Convention of the Rights of the Child, The CRC.

Many of you already know that the CRC was adopted in 1989, and that it has been ratified in all countries in the world except two. No other UN convention has been ratified in such a high number of countries.

The CRC expresses that:

The child is a human being with dignity, and that each child is unique, an individual, the child has special needs, and it needs support and protection, and the child's opinion shall be listened to.

In Sri Lanka it is somewhat difficult to give accurate figures regarding the situation of children in Sri Lanka. Many areas, because of the armed conflict, have not been accessible for proper data collection over the last two decades. But, we do know that the number of children between 0-19 is approximately 45% of the population, an estimated 8.5 million. Many of these children do not enjoy their basic rights. 

I can be more specific by relating this to the basic rights described in the CRC. 

A right to life - Thousands of children have been killed or maimed as a result of the conflict. Recent reports suggest a very high number of child soldiers at the frontline of the conflict.

A right to education - 300,000 children are internally displaced in Sri Lanka. Many of them have been displaced as many as seven times and have had no access to school. In other parts of the country children do not go to school because the distance to school is too big or the family cannot afford the costs.

The right to an adequate standard of living - In poor provinces in Sri Lanka, between 30 to 50% of the children are malnourished. In addition to these challenges comes the fear that there will be a negative economic development. 55% of Sri Lanka's children are saying they are afraid of their country's future if the conflict continues. A survey, conducted by the independent market research organization OrgMarg in late 1999 in nine districts outside the conflict areas, gave us these statistics.

A weakened economy could result in an increasing number of adults and youngsters out of work, increased migration, more children on the streets under more abusive conditions, and probably increased social unrest. This is a threat to both the children themselves and to the need for a stable and secure environment for business.

With so many of the coming adult generation not enjoying their basic human right, we cannot expect them in turn to be the maintainers of a functional civil society. In other words, if we want to save our common future, we have first to save our children.

How then can we move forward, and create a positive environment for the children of Sri Lanka as well for business and investment? What are the strategies and who are the most important players?

I believe that the key element in a strategy to fulfil the rights of the child will be the development of partnership between the three key players: The state and local authorities, the non- governmental organisations, - an example being Save the Children and our local partners, and the private corporations.

A big potential for substantial progress lies with the corporations. Those of you in the audience representing private companies should of course not take over the role and responsibility of the authorities or civil society. But I believe that you can all make better use of your importance for any society: Realizing your potential influence for the beneflt of children. An excellent example in Sri Lanka of co-operation between the public, private and non profit sectors is the Rotary Clubs Annual National Polio campaign.

As a tool for your work I would like to introduce a concept called Child Rights Initiative.

The aim of Child Rights Initiative is to provide a key to action for any business enterprise that wishes to exercise its social and ethical responsibility towards children.

Child Rights Initiative is not only a challenge, but also an invitation. In your work with the key questions, we would like to be invited to share with you our own experience from similar processes. The four key questions you have to ask yourselves are as follows:

How can we assure that any children that are involved in production or sale of our products are not being exploited, either directly by our company, or by our subcontractors?

It is important to keep the best interest of the child in mind: What are the alternatives for the children in the community? The right answer may sometimes be that children should be allowed to continue working in some form. Experience shows that to raise the issue of children working often is followed by an immediate denial of their existence, and the working children are swept out of their work or placed in a more hidden, and often worse, work situation. This is not a positive change for the working children. To avoid actions detrimental to children one must ensure a sound understanding and knowledge of the social context in which children live.

How can we assure that our adult employees are able to take proper care of their own children? And how can we ensure the same for the employees of our subcontractors?

Do the working conditions of adults enable them to provide adequately for the survival and development of their children? How do we stimulate change where such is needed - especially for developing trust and openness in participatory processes, which in turn would not only enhance productivity but also loyalty and respect for the company? This is challenging enough for those we directly employ, but what about our subcontractors? There may be complex systems and networks of subcontracting. The small local production units may have profound value in terms of local employment, for example for women. To exclude subcontractors due to difficulties in controlling labour practices may be detrimental to opportunities for family earnings locally. 

How can we contribute towards the government's efforts to provide services and facilities to children?

Can we provide information on educational, health or other social services? Not only that such exist, but also the quality of the services. Do all children have access in practice? If not, what can we do to improve the situation?

How can we contribute towards supporting and strengthening civil society where we are operating?

Individual states have ratified the CRC and as such should ensure that all children are benefiting from their investments. Civil society actors may monitor the state's efforts and changes taking place. They may also play an active role to enhance the efforts made by the state and involve people in creating an environment that stimulates children's growth and development. What role can we play in this context?

The outcome of a process based on these questions may vary a lot depending both on the individual company and the society in which it operates.

Save the Children is one of the organisations that can offer support in your work on Child Rights Initiative and we can share with you examples on methods, on pitfalls, on how to develop means for monitoring development. In Sri Lanka we have so far, established a co-operation with Keells Plantation Management Services (Pvt.) Ltd. Our common aim is to improve quality of the plantation pre-schools. 


  • Window of chance for Eco-Tourism 
  • Tea trade worried 
  • FCL launch its services again 
  • United Motors head hunts young head 
  • Colombo software firm in first school Internet access project 
  • Canadian special crops for the Lankan palate 
  • Window of chance for Eco-Tourism

    By Akhry Ameer
    Sixteen Sri Lankan companies will have the opportunity to showcase their products on eco-tourism when the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) meets at the 13th Adventure Travel and Eco-Tourism Conference and Mart (ATECM) at Kandalama from 30th January to 2nd February 2001.

    The first conference and mart to be held in Sri Lanka will be attended by 45 registered buyers from countries like UK, USA, France, Netherland, Sweden, Australia and India. A total of 30 sellers have also registered to participate at the mart. 

    Chairman of ATECM 2001 and member of the PATA Board Mr. Hiran Cooray said that Sri Lanka now has to offer adventure and eco-tours such as whitewater rafting, trekking, mountain biking, bird watching and that this is an excellent opportunity to expose Sri Lanka as a prospective destination.

    Several activities have been planned during the four-day programme. The conference to be held at Kandalama Hotel will also include a keynote address by Professor Sarath Kotagama on "Our Bio-Sphere". 

    Other international and local personalities are also to address the plenary and breakout sessions in the fields of bio-diversity, adventure travel and other related areas. The delegates will also be taken on tours and have on-site appointments with buyers.

    Habarana Lodge, Culture Club, Sigiriya Village and Sigiriya Hotel within the cultural triangle will also be providing support to the PATA Sri Lankan Chapter in organizing the event by hosting some of the delegates and co-ordinating various programmes. One of the views expressed by a support hotel was that such an event being held in Sri Lanka is not just a boost for eco-tourism, but that it helps to change perceptions of even the normal tour organizers and member countries, on issues like the security situation in the country. The Board of Investment, SriLanka Airlines, Sampath Bank, Pan Audio and Gestetner will be the key sponsors of this event. 

    Tea update

    Tea trade worried 

    The Colombo tea auctions have been in the limelight lately for setting new record price levels but the industry is also now facing a fresh crisis of high costs driven by escalating fuel prices and possible wage pressures.

    The Private Tea Factory Owners Association (PTFOA), at a recent press conference, voiced concern of a sharp rise in production costs including high interest rates.

    Association officials said that fuel costs alone had risen by Rs. 6 per kilo of tea at the end of last year from Rs. 3.50 per kilo of tea in 1999. 

    Officials said that diesel and especially kerosene was widely used in the estates on a daily basis for transportation and cooking. Hence they believe that the hikes would lead to another wage hike plea, the first for 2001. 

    Association president N. Pilapitiya, referring to the mechanisation of estates particularly labour, said that replacing human resources with machinery was currently not a viable option, as they had to pay more for the import of machinery and spares. 

    "But we may have to think of this option in the near future as there are possibilities of a labour shortage in the near future."

    The PTFOA, whose members produce 60% of all teas and 78% of the low grown teas, said that the member factories only receive a fraction of that gain. 

    In addition, they claim that high borrowing costs (up to 31% paid to brokers as interest for advances taken on catalogued teas), increased dependency on electrical power and increase in fuel costs affected profitability.

    Association members also complained that in recent times many small buyers have dropped out of the auctions due to difficulties in obtaining funds.

    They feel that the participation of the small buyers provides for healthy price competition at the auctions. 

    FCL launch its services again

    First Capital Limited (FCL) formerly known as Commercial Capital Ltd. announced a re-launch of its services during the week. The former company was renamed First Capital Ltd. in August 1999 after acquiring a 65% stake in MB Financial Services Ltd.

    The new look FCL now functions with four subsidiary companies set up according to regulatory requirements of the Central Bank and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

    The company now has a primary dealer known as FC Treasuries, an inter-bank money broker by the name of FC Money, FC Securities DSA its stock-broking company and FC Asset Management set up to focus on fund management. 

    Mrs. Rohini Nanayakkara with Ajith Devasurendra as its Managing Director heads the Board of First Capital Ltd.. 

    The other members are Hemaka Amarasuriya, M.T.L.Fernando, Vijaya Malalasekera, Neville Peiris, Gamini Abeysooriya and Sumith Guruge. 

    The company as a group aims to offer financial services with special focus in developing the Corporate Debt Securities Market. It also plans to take government instruments to the urban areas through direct sales agents. A test marketing programme is also underway through Singer outlets.

    MB Financial Services Ltd. commenced operations with Rs. 6 million and as First Capital Ltd. now has Rs. 100 million capital with a net worth of Rs. 130 million.

    United Motors head hunts young head

    Fayaz Saleem, a professional headhunter, principal consultant and Managing Director of Executive Search Ltd, recently headhunted and brokered the appointment of Anil Wijesinghe as the new managing director of United Motors Ltd (UML).

    Saleem, also head of AIMS (Appointments of International Management Specialists), said in a statement that the successful search for a candidate for one of the top jobs in the private sector was a boon to the relatively new headhunting industry.

    Mr. Wijesinghe, who has worked for the past 15 years in top positions at Hayleys and Gestetner Ltd, took up his appointment on January 1. United Motors is the local distributor for the Mitsubishi range of vehicles and has an impressive track record.

    "The appointment of Anil Wijesinghe is intended to serve as a catalyst for the ambitious expansion and diversification programmme envisaged by the management of UML, as it enters the challenging era of the new millennium," the statement said.

    Colombo software firm in first school Internet access project

    S. Thomas' College Mount Lavinia is the first Sri Lankan school to go online thanks to the efforts of a local software company. Last Monday, January 15, deployed its high-speed education network realising a company vision with the October 2000 launch of schools network is a free service to the school in which students of S. Thomas' received an e-mail address with their school domain name e.g.

    A company statement said students would have filtered access to the Internet empowering them to new heights of education and information.

    To make the system still more valuable for schools, has also bundled into it, its state-of -the -art email messaging system, community bulletin boards and document management capabilities.

    Students with Internet access at home can use the Schools Network to begin researching projects at school, and then upload their work for completion at home, the statement said.

    Canadian special crops for the Lankan palate

    Saskatchewan Trade and Export partnership, a Canadian marketing agency in collaboration with the High Commission of Canada in Sri Lanka, is presenting a Canadian Special Crops Seminar on January 30 and 31 in Colombo.

    The objective of this mission is to provide the Sri Lanka pulse market with information about Canadian pulse production, research and marketing, and to provide the Canadian pulse industry with and opportunity to strengthen its partnership with the Sri Lankan pulse and specialty crops market. Specialty crops are peas, lentils, chickpeas, dry beans, green peas, mustard, canary seed and spices.

    Tim Marshall, Manager, International Development of the company with Dr. A.R.J Rajakumar, President, Western Red Ruby, will conduct the seminar in Colombo.

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