Representing Sri Lanka as a senior global expert in the field of international development is nothing new for Anisha Rajapakse. For over two decades, she has worked extensively within the sphere of human rights, business and international development across Africa, Asia and Europe in the non-profit, inter-governmental, government, UN, and the private sectors. In recognition [...]


Lending a Sri Lankan voice to global conversation on creating a sustainable world


Anisha Rajapakse

Representing Sri Lanka as a senior global expert in the field of international development is nothing new for Anisha Rajapakse. For over two decades, she has worked extensively within the sphere of human rights, business and international development across Africa, Asia and Europe in the non-profit, inter-governmental, government, UN, and the private sectors.

In recognition of her extensive field experience and strong rights-based approach, Anisha has been appointed to the Board of Directors of The Rainforest Alliance, an international non-profit organisation operating in over 70 countries that works within business, agriculture and environmental sectors to protect forests, improve the livelihoods of farmers and forest communities, promote their human rights, and help them mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

“It’s been an honour to join the board of directors of the Rainforest Alliance. This organisation is one that I have admired and has been on my radar for a long time,” says Anisha.

She will be lending a Lankan voice to the global conversation on creating a more sustainable world by changing the way the world produces, sources and consumes, through the Alliance’s sustainable supply chain management practices that address issues like deforestation, promoting human rights and fostering more sustainable farming methods.

“The Alliance maintains that supporting brands that prioritise ethical practices by opting to become certified in the first place, sends an important message out into the world,” Anisha explains. “It highlights a sense of genuine intent to ‘do the right thing.’ A meaningful commitment to responsible purchasing practices must be central to any conversation about business and human rights.”

One of Anisha’s key areas of focus throughout her career has been on marginalised communities, including the economic empowerment of women, early childhood development, HIV/AIDS, disability, social entrepreneurship, and climate change. Most recently in Brussels, Anisha headed the Stakeholder Engagement department of a leading international business association, working closely with businesses to tackle complex supply chain issues including labour exploitation, forced labour and migration, gender-based violence and empowerment of women in supply chains.

Prior to that she led the Human Development Programme at the Commonwealth in London, working across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific regions to increase collaboration and effective working relations between civil society, government and the private sector towards meeting human development priorities in the Commonwealth. She has also worked as the Development Communications Expert for the GIZ in Afghanistan.

Having returned to Sri Lanka after a 25 year tenure in Europe, she has been operating as an independent international consultant, as well as supporting the Fair Labour Alliance as its Director of Stakeholder Engagement. She now works with companies to make it easier for them to adopt a human rights lens to their operations through tailored support/training with particular focus on business and human rights including corporate human rights due diligence in supply chains.

In the official announcement of the Rainforest Alliance, Daniel Katz, the Board Chair and Co-Founder of the Alliance states, “We are so excited for Anisha to join our Board of Directors. Her deep expertise in business and human rights, her extensive international experience, knowledge of sustainability and the evolving international human rights ecosystem will be an invaluable asset to the organization.”

The Rainforest Alliance’s work in Sri Lanka includes their Certification Programme, covering industries like tea and rubber, which focuses on continuous improvement to support sustainable production while also providing support to companies to strengthen their supply chain and source more responsibly produced commodities.

“I feel that adopting sustainable agriculture practices is just the starting point towards a safer and cleaner environment as the impacts from poor/destructive practices in the agriculture sector could be manifold, be it run-off in river sources, harmful agrochemicals use or others,” Anisha explains. She adds that there is a strong need to raise the level of awareness among consumers to generate a market for sustainably grown produce so that the cost of sustainability reaches down to the producer level.

Strengthening supply chains by providing farmers with market linkages is another key aspect of the Alliance’s work locally, as it is important for businesses to understand the need for protecting human rights within their supply chains. As such, their certification programme promotes an ‘assess and address’ approach that focuses on prevention, engagement, improvement, and incentivizing farms and companies to tackle these issues rather than hiding them, in compliance with international standards.

Additionally, in response to the devastating impact of the pandemic, Rainforest Alliance is also currently looking to provide support to smallholder farmers and the plantation communities by working jointly with the Ministry of Plantations to strengthen oxygen support systems within the local hospitals to augment the existing medical infrastructure in the country.

“I see the role of larger companies to lead and steer the agenda forward and I hope that my experience brings the international debate and conversations around human rights within the boardrooms of these companies who aspire for sustainable supply chains and responsible sourcing,” Anisha says.

Another key area of focus for the Alliance locally is the issue of climate change, as Sri Lanka is at high risk of impact due to its peculiar geographical location as an island nation made vulnerable by rising sea levels. Anisha explains that the best way forward for the country is to implement robust adaptation measures, build resilience of its vulnerable communities in the agriculture sector, and provide support and build capacities to build resilience to combat climate change in the long run.

“As the country moves towards organic agriculture, we are exploring opportunities with academia as well as our global team of experts to design a programme that helps our members in Sri Lanka navigate the policy with ease without significantly impacting their productivity levels.” Anisha reveals.

Anisha says  that it has become crucial that mitigating the impacts of climate change need to be accelerated in Sri Lanka through proactive and robust actions from the government.

“To do this the power of partnerships and strategic collaborations would be key to respond to these impacts. Unless all stakeholders, including CSOs, businesses and government join forces to design solutions, the success would remain a distant dream and survival a challenge,” Anisha says, adding that Rainforest Alliance is one such strategic partner to develop and scale up efforts.


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