Sri Lanka approves first ever national policy on co-operatives

Consultation work on the policy started in 2012, when policymakers spoke with co-ops in the war-torn Northern Province

The Sri Lankan co-op movement is more than a century hold – but now its first ever national co-operative sector policy has been finalised.

The National Policy on Co-operatives – completed with help from the International Labour Organization (ILO) – received approval from the cabinet. It was presented by Rishad Bathiudeen, Sri Lankan minister of industry and commerce, whose portfolio includes co-op development. 

According to the ILO in Sri Lanka, work on the policy began in 2012; a wide rang of stakeholders were consulted, starting co-ops in the Northern Province after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. 

Although co-operatives existed in the region before, and to some extent during the conflict, the sector needed to be re-built. The ILO supported the formation and development of co-ops with the help of the Local Empowerment through Economic Development (LEED) project, which received funding from the Australian Department of Foreign Aid and Trade (DFAT). 

In the absence of trade unions in regions lacking infrastructure due to years of conflict and neglect, co-operatives became an effective instrument for collective organisation and better incomes. This success led to the ILO developing a roadmap for action on furthering this social principle at work. 

The policy was drafted with technical support from the ILO’s Cooperatives Unit in Geneva, the International Cooperative Alliance, and through wide consultations with the Ministry of Co-operatives and Internal Trade and the co-operative movement at grass-root level.

The 111-year-old Sri Lankan co-operative sector employs 46,000 people. Currently, there are a more than 14,400 co-operatives in various sectors including production, services, SMEs, women’s development, rural banking, insurance and farming are active across Sri Lanka’s nine provinces.

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