Unemployed Sri Lankan factory worker writes to EU Ambassador on GSP Plus

An Open Letter from Anamika, The Juki Girl, To Ambassador Bernard Savage; Head of the EU Delegation in Colombo on the GSP Plus


H.E. Bernard Savage
The Representative of the European Union

You don’t know me. Even I did not know you till few weeks ago. I am one like the hundreds ofgirls you see when you drive in and out of the airport. You see some of us walking to the shifts or going home after work in the garment factories near the airport. You may know us as the "Juki Girls". Or you may not have seen us as you drive very fast. So, I could even remain nameless. Actually, I thought I was luckier than most other Juki Girls. When I left school and was looking for work, I wanted to come and work in one of those factories near the airport, as few girls from the village had done earlier. But Amma was dead against it. She said "you go there over my dead body".

In Colombo many girls live together in one small room, she said. "You will spend all the money on room, food, clothes and perfumes, like all those Juki girls there. Only thing they are good at is doing bad things. You will not even save any money", she said. Secondly I had never been to Colombo before. So I did not know what it was like. So I had to stay back in my village. But I was lucky. The garment factory close to our village started recruiting more workers. The manager sir said Europe gave us a concession called GSP Plus, after 2004 tsunami. Because of that the factory had lots of orders from Europe. That is why they could give us jobs.The factory even provided us with transport from home and free breakfast. I could save money and even help my family. In our village we were proud to be "Juki Girls". We didn’t have a bad image like our uprooted sisters elsewhere.Anyway, I know you are a busy man and don’t have time to read this boring stuff. So let me tell you why I decided to write to you.

Recently, I lost my job. Today, I am an unemployed "Juki Girl". Our factory closed down whenthe company found it was difficult to export to Europe from Sri Lanka,after they lost GSP Plus. The company has nowstarted to ship from their factory in Jordan, because they have GSP Plus. I don’t believe it. How can Jordan get GSP plus. They did not have Tsunami. It must be due to some other big word. Even our factory manager got a job in Jordan. A number of girls also went with him. I also wanted to go there. But you know my Amma. She said "over my dead body". This time she did not object if I come to Colombo to look for work,particularly as I have child to feed. Or I forget to tell you I married mechanic at the factory. He also lost his job when the factory closed down. So I came down to Colombo. There was this nice Nona who visited our factory few years ago, from an office called Vanija Mandalaya, or something like that. She came to see if things have improved for us as result of the GSP Plus. She also was looking for somebody to work in her house in Colombo. So these days I live and work in her house while looking for job in a garments factory.

ThisVanija Nona says GSP Plus was not a concession given because of Tsunami. It is based on international rules called WTO rules. She says you and your boss; theBaroness took away GSP Plus, breaking these rules.Nona also showed me a newspaper article with your picture. You look like a nice and honest man. That’s why I thought I will write to you, now I have seen your nice photo and I know you.

You have said GSP plus withdrawal was done because Sri Lanka did not fulfill conditions on the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These are not European Rules but international rules. It’s simply that for countries to benefit from GSP+ they should apply laws they have alreadysubscribed for, like the EU applies those WTO rules to which it has subscribed to. Nona said she doesn’t believe you. I said "you are an honest man we should believe what you say". She says a British diplomat (like your boss) Sir Henry Wotton who said long a go "An Ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country". She says you are only trying to maintain this great European tradition. Even if you didn’t lie what you said was not the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth.

She says long before you took off GSP Plus, a powerful German Nona, Heidemarie Wieczorek- Zeul had said " "… If the Sri Lankan government continues to insist on a military option, I will demand that the EU should withdraw the General System of Preference (GSP) offered to Sri Lanka. This concession enables Sri Lanka to export its goods and products to the EU at reduced or exempted tax and duty levies. This step will really bring economic pressure on the GoSL. The biggest portion of Sri Lanka’s exports consists of textile exports. Only garment product exports to the EU markets are valued at US$ 1-2 billion annually."

So her friend your Baroness Nona bended your own regulations to accommodate her request and stated in New York ""It’s me that did the GSP Plus removal from Sri Lanka,…It’s important if you have a program that says, this is conditionality, if you don’t do it or you do something in breach of it that there are consequences. I stand by that completely. We did our own independent look into what had been going on. I’d like to see Sri Lanka make progress." Nona says, that is not the "objective look" required by your own regulations. Your regulations say you will be guided by the decisions of the UN monitoring bodies. It appears from what you have done the EU and the commission alone has the authority to decide which country applies these rules and which country does not apply these rules. It also appears that the UN monitoring bodies have no business in this regard.

Even then Nona likes you. She says you are much better than your predecessor who was confused about what Sir Henry Sir had said and acted as if an ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie to his country for his own good. But even this she forgives. She feels he had only gone native and had done what our diplomats do all the time.She says there are some people in Sri Lankawho made successful careers out of it and that was one reason why we lost the Plus. She says your predecessor complained about deaththreat linked to GSP Plus; "If you take away GSP plus we take you away".Many NGO types and others also echoed that and said they also received such threats. If those were true, after the withdrawal of the GSP Plus, there should have been more dead bodies on streets in Colombo than in Mullivaikkal, even by your numbers.

Nona says that there are many countries which get GSP Plus. Regard to the 27 conventions Sri Lanka’s recordsare better than most countries. So before GSP plus away from us you have to take it away from all these countries. She says in 2008, "European Trade Union Confederation" even wrote to you and requested you investigate Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Georgia as they are the world’s worst violators of Human Rights and Labour conventions, particularly if you are serious about the requirement to respect labour standards and human rights. She also says UN Monitoring bodies had very strong adverse reports on these countries which you decided to ignore and go by your own reports.

Nona says that is not very objective, civilized nations don’t do things like that. She says it is like changing the rules, your own rules,in middle of a game and paying the referee to do what you want. You may also have paid some of our players to play for you.You never told us that only convention that matters is ICCPR. Or which UN monitoring body stated that Sri Lanka does not apply these laws. Was it your experts who decided that Sri Lanka’s record is worse than other countries? Nona says, you first decide Sri Lanka will be removed from list of beneficiaries, hire some "independent experts", pay them good money and voila, you have an objective decision to take away GSP plus from Sri Lanka.(sorry sir, nona use many bad words all of which I cannot include)

Nona says it is not correct. I don’t think so. In our village we have a saying " NaduthHamuduruwange, BaduthHamuduruwange" . That was how our "WalauweHamuduruwo", our Feudal Lord, dispensed justice. We poor villagers understand this. I am sure any Lord, Lady or Baroness would alsounderstand how this works. I explained this to Nona. She says, it is not a case of understanding or not understanding what is right and what is wrong, it was case of the Lord’sgreed for the diaspora vote.

Nona says in early this year European Members of parliament asked you why you are not withdrawing GSP Plus from Colombia as "… before and during the implementation of the GSP, Colombia has faced (and is still currently facing) grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and arbitrary arrests and detentions, carried out by the Colombian authorities." There are statements made by the United Nation and others attesting to grave human rights violations. But you refused to even investigate let alone withdraw the GSP Plus. She says it is not fair to have one rule for Sri Lanka and one for Colombia.Unless if you think, if you are fair and Colombians are fair, it is only fair to be fair to them and unfair to us. Sri Lankans are any way unfair and so it is a fair game.She says you may also have had funding constraints to have one more investigation because you have alreadyspend all the funds on the independent experts and the NGO types during the investigation on Sri Lanka.

Talking about funds, Nona says she wants to thank you for Euro 388 million you are giving us as "free money". After all aid is always better than tradeand grants, handouts or free money are even better. But she wants to know whether this comes from the taxes you unfairly collected from us, after the withdrawal of the GSP Plus.Is this like Robin Hood, the highway bandit, who robbed the rich to pay the poor? Only difference is in this case you rob the poor of their jobs and given them to richer countries. So you are no Robin Hood.

Nona says that we should have gone to the WTO, like our big brother India did, when you tried similar tricks on them. Wasn’t it the reason why GSP Plus was created in the first place? She thinks our Sirs don’t have guts to do that.

Nona says I should look for work in Egypt, Jordan, Mauritius or even Zimbabwe as you have given all the concessions to them.It is a new sustainable development policy which promotes migration. First orders and investments migrate to those countries, then jobs and finally the workers. She showed me a film on Jordan made by ILO. So now I know it is a workers’ paradise. I can go there and work sixteen hours a day! Kamala Akka, from the village, who went to Egypt to work in a garment factory, said at Cairo airport she did not even have to wait in the line to clear immigration. She and other girls were herded to corner and were asked to wait for two hours till all others cleared the immigration. Even the manager sir who went with them was herded to the corner like we herd cattle in the village.

I know all this is not important to you. You don’t have to listen to us or reply this letter. You only talk to educated people, who had studied in Europe. That is why you have said that with "regard to trade there are no specific irritants …and the GSP Plus is a closed chapter. We need to move on". Aney Sir, I am the one who lost my job when we lost the GSP Plus. Only way I can move on is move to Jordan and if I do that it may break my mother’s heart.


Anamika G.S.

Unemployed Juki Girl

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