Unilever & The New-Old Screws: Land & Labour Acts
Posted on November 26th, 2023

e-Con e-News

blog: eesrilanka.wordpress.com

Before you study the economics, study the economists!

e-Con e-News 19-25 November 2023


‘What are the problems of the farmers who currently own lease lands?

The government has stopped subsidies.

The government has stopped fertilizer.

The government is not helping with water supply.

The government is not buying their crops.

The government is not supporting them to get loans

from state banks, based on their income from production

& ability to pay back interest.

Can giving an ownership certificate address the above?’

– ee Sovereignty, The deal behind giving land ownership certificates to Sri Lanka’s farmers.’ – S Waduge

The scandal of the 19th century, beyond the English invasions & genocides, beyond the wilful English destruction of complex irrigation systems – which the English correctly recognized as forming the solidarity & solidity of the ancient village & its gamsabha – beyond all this, was the English fragmentation of land, especially the Temple Lands. So recalled SBD de Silva, whose unparalleled scholarship inspires this ee archive. These vast holdings, he observed, could have provided the basis for an even more-coordinated modern and efficient agriculture. Instead, fragmentation resulted in bestowing the country with the most impoverished peasantry in Asia in 1948, while aiding domination by one of the world’s biggest multinational corporations (MNCs) – Unilever.

     The President magnanimously declares, ‘2 million farming families who lost their traditional lands during the English colonial era are due to get ownership of land & farmland’ (ee AgricultureBudget & home ownership). 2 million families means almost half the country! Yet there’s no real opposition to compute such arithmetic (Oh wait, everybody’s playing cricket!).

     Then again, politics is algebra! The media happily misses how this Presidential newly spun ‘generosity’ is just the very old wine of the US MCC’s plan to turn all our lands into real estate to be sold off once again to the highest colonial multinational bidders! (see ee Focus, S Kulatunga)

     Much of this titled land, without the economic supports described above by Shenali Waduge, will indeed fall into the hands of merchants & moneylenders and then into the pockets of MNCs. This took place in 19thC Eastern Province, where the English by enforcing compound interest through their courts, enabled Muslim merchants to acquire vast holdings through the use of 3rd parties at English land auctions. And, not just there.

     The lands in the highlands were stolen for the English coffee & tea plantations. How the Kandyan chieftains, who aided the English capture of the last citadel of the Sinhala, abused their high office to subsequently steal even more crown land is examined by Sena Thoradeniya in ‘Kandyan Chieftains under the English’ (ee Sovereignty).


• It’s therefore apropos that ee concludes its look at the surreptitious in-plain-sight role of the English multinational Unilever, who has been the chief beneficiary of the robbery of Sri Lanka’s lands and labour. ee also suspects Unilever is behind Sri Lanka’s largest corporations – JKH, Sunshine Holdings, Maharaja, George Steuart – etc. It is no coincidence that the CBSL Governing Board (GB) set up to control the Central Bank (CB) has been captured by such corporate stooges (see ee Random Notes). And as this ee Focus suggests, Unilever is indeed the grandmaster ‘navigating’ the new Employment Act.

     Unilever has been eroding workers’ wellbeing in Sri Lanka, controlling preparation, shipping & packaging, which has enabled commodity price manipulation in the tea business:This total control was ‘temporarily disrupted’ in Sri Lanka when the plantations were nationalized in 1975 (resulting in increased zealotry to overthrow that UF government). Under pressure from international financial institutions, however, the plantations were privatized in 1992, and Unilever Ceylon led the way in promoting many of the subsequent erosions in worker welfare!Unilever’s ‘colonial strategies of divide & conquer’ resulted in a massive strike against privatization in 1998, enabling gains for workers. Unilever Ceylon tried to avoid its own agreement in 2001, citing the India-SL Free Trade Agreement (1999) that reduced tariffs on tea. Unilever Ceylon tried to pit Indians against Sri Lankan workers, with its subsidiaries in each country blaming cheap imports from the other. Unilever Ceylon further threatened to end all tea production in Sri Lanka, citing union disruption, and asserted that it would simply bring in Indian tea to sell in Sri Lanka. Unions in both countries shared information about the Unilever subsidiaries. The company had lobbied strongly for the trade agreement, seeking India as a new market. Unilever Ceylon, with the connivance of Hindustan Lever, was hoping to expand the potential of its export labels essentially by buying the bulk of its tea from India and then re-exporting it as a blend with a little Sri Lankan tea, as the CEO acknowledged in 2003, noting the plan had been blocked by the Sri Lanka government under pressure from plantation unions.

     This ee Focus notes: ‘Tamil plantation workers in Ceylon were organized in 1939 by Indian unionists as the Ceylon Indian Congress.’ What it fails to discuss is the role played by the English colonialists & Indian bourgeoisie in banning the LSSP, whose base was among plantation workers, alienating them from the rest of the country’s workers (ee 17 July 2021; Aug 2023 Pt 5).

     Which brings us to the other forces behind the new Employment Act:


‘There were 12,000 registered lobbyists whispering in the ears

of US members of Congress federal agencies

to obtain the desires of their corporate masters.

In 2022 total federal lobbying expenditures reached $4.1billion

The US Chamber of Commerce – which counts companies

like JPMorgan Chase, Alphabet (Google) & Chevron

among its members – spent $79.4million.’

(see ee Finance)


This generous US Chamber of Commerce (AmCham)’s Colombo toady this week had Shan Yahampath (who ee mistakenly called a Minister last week) ‘conduct a symposium’ (costing Rs6,500 a ticket). Yahampath was ‘Decoding Sri Lanka’s Proposed Labour Reforms’ and its ’34 pivotal amendments’, for US corporate interests at the ‘Goodies Board Room’ of a Colombo speakeasy. Yahampath, accused of complicity in trafficking ‘goodies’, (see ee Comments), is not only an ‘advisor to Minister on International Relations’, but also ‘private secretary’ to the Minister of Labour & Foreign Employment. The US Chamber’s invitation appropriately describes the event with such colonial Columbian tropes as ‘navigate’, ‘explore’ & ‘discover’… Goody goody for them!

     We know well what transpired post-Columbus… for which the USA recently ‘gave thanks’ again for their mass murder & robbery of those Americas. Indeed, even as the world is supposed to forget and concoct what they are giving thanks for, Gaza tells us clearly what their Thanksgivings are all about!


As the attack on Sri Lanka’s economy escalates, women – who make up for more than 50% of migrant workers, providing the 2nd-highest contribution to the country’s foreign exchange – women who faced the brunt of Covid as frontline health workers & factory workers (constituting the majority of over 1 million workers in Sri Lanka’s apparel fraud) face even greater exploitation. ee Focus continues sharing the Communist Party of Sri Lanka’s Alternate Program: this week examining how this economic downturn intensely affects women. Both the enforced impoverishment and the measures taken by the capitalists to demand more sacrifices from the working class, ‘discrimination based on gender could re-surface’.


• And while the US embassy and their stink-tanks & NGOs sing the praises of equality, it is women who also face labor-intensive exploitation in the fields & plantations, in homes as domestics, and in factories, where they are denied access to modern machinery that could develop new skills and ease their toil. ee therefore concludes its look at the world’s most powerful tech company – ASML – that makes the machines that make the machines that make electronic chips, and how it was favored by Dutch industrial policy, the US war machine & EU subsidies. It is with a combination of mirth & melancholy to note how funny so-called (Western) Marxists & (a)Historical Materialists are, who ignore this culture of modern production, that aims to prevent our access to such modernity.

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