When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Sri Lanka

With Civil War Behind, Business Booms In Tiny Sri Lanka

Few island nations have had better pre-conditions for economic and social development than Sri Lanka, which investors recognize is ripe for growth and tourism. The country has a high literacy rate and free healthcare. But none has suffered as long as Sri

Seamstress at work in Jan Höjman's clothing factory in Sri Lanka
Seamstress at work in Jan Höjman's clothing factory in Sri Lanka
Ric Wasserman

ALAAWA — Sri Lanka's beaches are known for their beauty, but from the mid-1980s until seven years ago few tourists saw them as war raged between government troops and the Tamil Tigers guerilla group. The country slowly imploded, socially and economically.

The few who dared to invest believed that one day the country would again rise. And indeed Sir Lanka began its climb back in May 2009, when the Tamil Tigers were defeated.

Swedish clothing manufacturer Jan Höjman saw the potential in the tiny island nation, building a factory while the war still raged. "We started in 2004 in spite of the war and all that meant," he says now. "Of course, it felt very unsafe, but at the same time we saw a country where contact with the officials went smoothly, especially in terms of legal aspects and logistics."

Höjman was convinced because he knew that the country had both excellent tailors and a long tradition of clothing production. And then the war indeed finally ended.

"Since then, the country has changed dramatically in many, many areas," he says. "Especially regarding the infrastructure, the roads."

Manager Nalin Papadana guides visitors around a factory, built in 2006 in Alaawa in north central Sri Lanka. Rows of men and women are busy stitching and cutting fabric, sewing on buttons, ironing collars. Production here is radically different from mass manufacturers because the 500 workers fill Internet orders, sewing each garment individually according to body size and style preference.

Dannika, a seamstress, has been working here since the factory opened. She breaks into a wide smile as she explains the improvement since the war ended. "We can travel anywhere we like because it's safe now," she says. "We're no longer afraid. The factory has programs with music, dance and a child daycare center."

Attracting workers

These extra perks are becoming more common across Sri Lanka as prodution facilities try to attract skilled local tailors.

But the textile sector, though booming, has been hit by one dark cloud: The EU dropped Sri Lanka from its list of countries with duty-free import, and that cuts into profits and limits investors.

It lost its favorable EU status because the government refuses to allow a UN investigation into how an estimated 70,000 Tamil Tigers were killed in the last battle of the war. A UK TV channel has produced a documentary showing Sri Lankan troops shooting the Tamil prisoners of war.

But the EU issue doesn't bother Nalin Pappadana because orders are streaming in and a new factory will go up. "That's the plan," he says. "It will take around three years time to finish all the factory premises. Then we'll have the capacity to employ 1,200 plus another 500 here."

It's not just textiles that are expanding. Sri Lanka's biggest contributor to the economy is now tourism, with a 40% jump over the last three years.

[rebelmouse-image 27089954 alt="""" original_size="1023x651" expand=1]

Sunrise over Millabedda, Sri Lanka — Photo: uditha wickramanayaka

But most hotels are small operations. The country is in deep debt to China, which has built the new roads, harbors and airports. Bigger investors will be necessary to repay the loans.

A traditional ceremony greets the guests at Sri Lanka's first luxury hotel, which opened in December. The hope is that tax revenue from five-star hotels like this one will help reduce government debt.

Hotel manager Tamir Kobrim says Sri Lanka's time has come. "The owners saw the opportunity, and we are investing just about $100 million in two resorts," Kobrim says. "It's a huge investment, a huge commitment for the company and the owners, and I think they believe in the country, in the future. They believe that Sri Lanka is a new destination."

Sri Lankans too are optimistic. With a literacy rate of 93%, free health care and developed infrastructure, things are looking up.

A major challenge is to ensure an equal share of the development revenue is invested in the north and east. That's crucial because, if not, the country risks Tamil protests, which might quickly scare away both investors and tourists.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

in the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading – and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

Protesters on Thursday in the German state of Thuringia carried Russian flags and signs: 'First our country! Life must be affordable.'

Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
Stefanie Bolzen, Philipp Fritz, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister, Mandoline Rutkowski, Stefan Schocher, Claus, Christian Malzahn and Nikolaus Doll

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ