By Avanthi Kalansooriya –
It was two years ago that we were assigned to conduct group research on any issue related to peace and conflict during a summer program conducted by a Norwegian university on Peace and Conflict Studies. The groups were given the liberty to look at any issue pertaining to the South Asian sub continent. Given that the concept of peace has received multiple interpretations over the past decades where it means “peace is more than the absence of war”, we were permitted to look at the nuanced understandings of the concept of peace. There was one group that researched the damage that Coca Cola Company does to the water resources of India and how it exhausts the water resources belonging to the marginalized communities in India. This brought us to a new reality that it is much more important to incorporate the protection of environment to the discourse of peace.
Yes, Sri Lanka has ended a 30 year conflict and has reached the stage of negative peace where the structural forms of violence still persist. The post-conflict discourse has only permitted us to look at the conflict-oriented issues, but eventually that has made us neglect looking at the concept of peace in a broader perspective. Other than the Rathupaswala water issue and the development-induced environmental damage caused by the recent rapid development projects, the need for a discussion on environment has not received much attention in the post-war discourse. However, now the oil spill in the River Kelani, where the perpetrator of the damage is Coca Cola Company, has reinvigorated a discussion on the environment especially in social media. The term perpetrator that often comes in criminal justice has been deliberately used in the article since we are lagging behind in criminalizing the environmental crimes both in the local context and the global context.
The entire Coca Colaization began in 1990s with the proliferation of neo-liberal values through the process of globalization. The movement of capitalism is not a recent phenomenon. Its inception lies in the imperial project where the West started colonizing the ‘backward parts’ of the world in search of new markets for their excess products and by exploring natural resources to accumulate more wealth where, in turn, they would “civilize” the “uncivilized” people in the third world by offering better standards of living as a win-win deal. In his thesis, ‘The Highest form of Capitalism’, Lenin mentions that “imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism in general.” 1960 marked the decolonization of the continents that were colonized by the western powers and 1990s marked the revival of colonization through a new form, where globalization appeared “softer” but served the same purpose similar to its predecessor. The multinational companies such as Coca Cola not only found new markets for their products with a new consumer base but also found new natural resources to continue their production and use cheap labor from the third world. This neo-colonization project has once again shown us that the deal has never been win-win but win-lose with the latest spill that occurred in the River Kelani.
The recent disaster has resulted in shortages in water supply for the people surviving on the water of river Kelani depriving its own people from their right to water. However, the environmental damage that an oil spill causes can persist for years. The damage that it causes to the entire eco system that survives on the river is irreplaceable and the impacts toward the livelihoods based on the river is yet to be assessed. This article is not an attempt to necessarily suggest that Sri Lanka has to stop attracting foreign investment, but there should be a proper mechanism to monitor the activities conducted by the multi-nationals in Sri Lanka, not only with regard to their environmental policy but also their policies on ensuring labor rights etc. The Sri Lankan citizens have recently given a mandate to a regime that is pro-capitalist and that believes in encouraging foreign investment, however, we have to lay down stringent environment regulations in order to protect the natural resources. The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSRs) being the humanitarian face of the multi-nationals urge the companies to strike a healthy balance between profit-making and social-environmental responsibilities. Thus, CSRs has to come into operation right from the beginning, but not after the occurrence of a hazardous event. It is their duty to monitor whether their systems are in place. For instance, the minor matters such as the maintenance of their drainage systems, oil supply systems have to be monitored closely since the damage caused to fragile eco systems are never replaceable.
Hence, can we have better policies to make the globalization deal a win-win one other than a deal that occurs at the jeopardy of the right to water of the citizens and to the detriment of eco-systems?