Peace through profit: Sri Lankan perspectives on corporate social responsibility

This report investigates Sri Lankan perceptions of the role of business in society, and businesses’ own perception of this role, including its potential in supporting social, economic and political development. It also explores whether corporate social responsibility (CSR), as presently understood by businesses and the wider community, can be a useful entry point for Sri Lanka’s private sector to contribute to peace.

The current war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is two decades old. According to official figures, around 65,000 people have been killed, but the true total may be much higher. Despite fluctuations in the military balance of power, the situation appears to have entered a long-term stalemate with neither side capable of defeating the other. Norway’s involvement as facilitator in November 2001 and the signing of a ceasefire agreement in February 2002, followed by peace talks, raised hopes of a negotiated political agreement. However, formal peace talks broke down in May 2003.

Since economic liberalisation in the late 1970s, the private sector has had an increasing impact on society in Sri Lanka. In the light of this, it is of strategic importance to explore ways in which business can be involved in addressing issues of social concern. The bombing of Colombo International Airport in July 2001 drove home the economic consequences of war and the vulnerability of Sri Lankan businesses to the conflict. This motivated them to launch initiatives that work towards building peace in the country.