You are on page 1of 8


Accumulation by
Subordination: Migration-
Underdevelopment in the Open
Matt Withers

Introduction rite of passage as a means of providing for the household.

Yet the overlap between Sri Lankas neoliberal turn and
emporary labour migration has quietly
become the cornerstone of Sri Lankas burgeoning migration runs deeper than immigration
economy. Although Sri Lankas economy policy; the open economy has rekindled a colonial logic
is more frequently associated with tea, of accumulation by subordination that has marginalised
tourism and garment manufacturing, in 2015 the the poor within an uneven and remittance-led model of
combined net foreign exchange earnings of its three development.
largest industries were eclipsed by workers remittances
amounting to US$ 6.9 billion (CBSL 2016). Equivalent Accumulation by Subordination
to 66 percent of total export earnings and 8.5 percent
of gross domestic product (GDP) for the same year The modern political-economy of Sri Lanka cannot
(CBSL 2016), the prominence of these remittance be understood independently of its history with
inflows is commensurate to the volume of domestic and colonialism. Overlapping waves of colonial invasion
low-skilled workers leaving Sri Lanka to work abroad, by the Portuguese, Dutch and British have altered the
overwhelmingly in the oil-economies of West Asia. The structure of Sri Lankas social and economic institutions:
last available data indicate that there were 1,932,245 The traditional monarchy was progressively undermined
Sri Lankans in foreign employment as of 2010 (SLBFE by military incursions and the entrenchment of foreign
2012), approximately 10 percent of the countrys total administration within southern coastal regions;
population and equivalent to roughly 25 percent of the extraction economies arose around the regional trade
domestic workforce. Given that annual departures have of cinnamon, gems, and agricultural produce; and,
increased year-on-year since 2010, and large irregular under the British, tea plantations were established as
migration flows remain unaccounted for, these figures a central feature of the economy. The last and most
can be considered conservative estimates of the true enduring of these shifts, from exploitation by extraction
extent of Sri Lankas migrant workforce. to exploitation by production, is a defining feature of
For Sri Lankas working poor, this statistical snapshot British imperialism as a more explicitly capitalist form
reflects a more intimate socio-economic reality: The of colonialism (McNally 2006). The logic of imperial
prevalence of temporary labour migration as a dominant capitalism demands a reconfiguration of the social
livelihood and survival strategy. Since the sweeping 1977 relations of production in order to facilitate the capital
economic reforms deregulated Sri Lankas immigration accumulation for which it exists. In Sri Lanka this did
policy, foreign employment in West Asia has become not entail a comprehensive adoption of capitalist social
an increasingly common means of earning an income relations, but rather the strategic assimilation of the
in lieu of decent local work and for the most existing mode of production including its ethnic,
developmentally marginalized communities almost a gender, and caste divisions into capitalist production.

Polity | Volume 7, Issue 2 53


While capitalist social relations did extend to produce in which neoliberal economic restructuring through
an urban working class in and around Colombo, this privatization, financialization, the manipulation of
nascent proletariat was predominantly Sinhalese, crises and state redistributions facilitates enhanced
in contrast to the concentration of Indian Tamils capital accumulation (Harvey 2003). Accumulation
performing indentured labour in the plantation sector by subordination, meanwhile, refers to the processes
(Gunasinghe 2011, p. 152). Forcibly brought over from through which such dispossession is social and
Tamil Nadu by the British while the plantations were culturally normalized. In the case of the plantations,
being established in the 1820s (De Silva 1948, p. 142), the Indian Tamils were already dispossessed by economic
the Indian Tamils were ethnically subordinated as a upheavals in India and their subsequent displacement
segregated and exploitable labour force without political to Sri Lanka, only to then be subordinated within Sri
representation. The semi-feudal nature of production Lanka, culturally and socially, in order to preserve their
within the plantations was ensured by the strategic exploitation within ethnicized semi-feudal production.
recreation of South Indian caste relations: Indian In leveraging the cultural subjugation of Indian Tamils
Tamils of higher castes were given relatively better jobs (and particularly Indian Tamil women) to maintain a
and lodgings within the plantation, whilst lower castes semi-feudal workforce whose mistreatment garnered
performed the most labour-intensive work and lived little political traction, the British effectively mapped
further afield (Jayawardena and Kurian 2015). The out a blueprint for wealth creation that has since been
subordination of women under traditional patriarchal reproduced in varying contexts to become the defining
arrangements was likewise mirrored within the dynamic of Sri Lankas uneven development.
plantation communities, with social order constructed
The forging of Sri Lankas post-independence
upon the disproportionate concentration of productive
identity has largely occurred within the ideological
and reproductive labour amongst Indian Tamil women,
parameters of patriarchal ethno-nationalism, through
who typically undertook all of the actual coffee and tea
which the Sinhalese majority has applied the logic of
picking. The subsumption of ethnicity and gender by
accumulation by subordination to construct economic
capital thus sustained growth and accumulation within
and social advantages over women and ethnic minorities
the plantation sector, providing a lucrative source of
(Withers and Biyanwila 2014). However, the economic
investment for colonialists and the local bourgeoisie
ramifications of patriarchal ethno-nationalism have
alike. Tea soon became Sri Lankas largest and most
been severely exacerbated by neoliberal restructuring
valuable export commodity, yet the realization of profit
that has mobilized patriarchal rhetoric to subordinate
and subsequent economic development it enabled
women (particularly of minority ethnic backgrounds) at
necessarily occurred in local or foreign metropoles and
the lowest tiers of export production in the plantation
not the plantation communities themselves, where the
sector, garment manufacturing, and labour migration.
buttressing of discriminatory social relations to preserve
Together, women working in these three spheres of
semi-feudal conditions ensured the suppression of
economic activity have been the backbone of Sri Lankas
modern export economy and facilitated processes of
The plantation economy set an influential precedent development in which (as with the colonial plantation
for accumulation by subordination. Accumulation by system) their political and economic interests have
subordination describes the explicit mobilization been conspicuously absent. Meanwhile, economic
of prevailing social and cultural discrimination discrimination along ethnic lines was an underlying
to legitimize and maintain particular modes of cause of Sri Lankas civil war and remains a salient
exploitation and capital accumulation. It is a logic of dynamic in the exploitative post-war reintegration
domination in which existing disadvantages are not of Tamil majority provinces and recent incidences of
simply exploited for production, but are intensified ethnic violence targeting Muslim communities and
and recreated through the social relations of production businesses, such as in Aluthgama.
itself. By fusing subordination with the performance
of work that signifies and reaffirms subordinate status,
Neoliberalism and the Roots of Temporary Labour
social and cultural hegemony is harnessed to reinforce
and give meaning to forms of exploitation whose very
extremity would otherwise lack popular justification. In 1977, utilising additional legislative powers
This logic of accumulation by subordination is related conferred to the newly created presidency, Jayawardene
to, but differs importantly from, its kindred concept oversaw the implementation of a package of free market
of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 2003). policies that rapidly deregulated and privatized the Sri
Accumulation by dispossession refers to the manner Lankan economy. A floating exchange rate was adopted,

54 Polity | Volume 7, Issue 2


import and migration controls were dismantled, the the development of industrialization that
banking system and credit supply were substantially emerged after a decade of liberalization was very
deregulated, and blueprints were laid down for a large much lopsided with less diversification and was
export processing zone just north of Colombo in highly urban-based. Out of the industrial exports
Katunayake (Richardson Jr. 2004, p. 4). This geographic nearly 60 percent originated from the textile and
reconfiguration of production was accompanied by the garment sector and 70-80 percent of the industry
simultaneous abandonment of decentralized state-run in output terms was concentrated in the Western
industries, curtailing the provision of local employment Province (2006, p. 202).
opportunities for rural populations and particularly Neoliberal development continued to exclude the
for women hitherto working within village workshops Sri Lankan Tamil population clustered in the North
established by the national handloom industry and East, but also fostered incendiary ethnic tensions
(Kottegoda 2004, p. 63). The rural poor were further amongst economically disaffected Sinhalese poor, many
disadvantaged by the abolition of rice subsidies, on of whom in turn found military employment as the
which the country had relied since independence, and armed services swelled during the civil war (Shastri
the undermining of public healthcare and education by 2004, p. 85). For the rural Sinhalese population,
the rise of privatized alternatives (Gunasinghe 2011, p. diminishing local employment opportunities amidst
179). the feminization of urban export manufacturing
Yet these free market reforms were not paired dramatically reconfigured the working lives of young
with a typically neoliberal fiscal stance. In a bid to women, large numbers of whom began migrating
galvanize the economy for export production the new internally to support themselves and their families by
government channelled massive capital expenditure labouring in the growing garment industry. Similarly,
into agriculture, industry, housing, and infrastructure the pervasive decline of rural livelihoods alongside the
projects (Richardson Jr. 2004, p. 48). Though successful relaxation of migration policies engendered growing
in stimulating short-term growth and causing a temporary labour migration to West Asia. Women
marked increase in low value-added industrial exports, in particular were departing in large numbers, both
government expenditures were largely financed by deterred by the deepening stigma surrounding garment
developmental aid, international loans, and foreign work and impelled by high demand for migrant domestic
exchange receipts earned from remittances. Together, workers following India, Pakistan and Bangladeshs
these sources of capital represented a new web prohibition of female migration (Eelens, Mook, and
of macroeconomic dependencies and constraints Schampers 1992, p. 5). In path-dependant fashion
(Richardson Jr. 2004, p. 51). Thus the early boom these broad structural trends have matured since the
accompanying Jayawardenes liberalization programme 1977 turn to become increasingly embedded features of
was short-lived. By 1982 government debt had tripled, the Sri Lankan economy: Ethnic violence has eventually
inflation was high, and trade deficits no longer resolved as a post-war strategy of accumulation by
cushioned by import restrictions were increasing dispossession; feminized (and more recently ethnicized)
rapidly. Debt servicing took up a growing portion of manufacturing has become entrenched as a key export
government revenue and precipitated heavy cutbacks industry; and the remittances received from labour
to already strained developmental and welfare projects, migration have comprised an ever-greater slice of the
while spiralling inflation caused ongoing reductions in foreign exchange earnings financing trade deficits and
real wages, and the post-independence trend towards loan repayments.
distributional equality began reversing under intensified
capital accumulation (Indraratna 1990, p. 3). Ethnic Violence and the Open Economy
The new macroeconomic tensions of Sri Lankan The causality between economic restructuring in
neoliberalism produced and sustained three broad and 1977 and the outbreak of civil war in 1983 is contested
interrelated trends: Increasing ethnic violence and the in Sri Lanka, complicated by the existence of competing
wartime economy, internal migration to find work in and highly politicized interpretations of accountability
the urban export economy, and countrywide recourse for the conflict. Sri Lankas macroeconomic problems
to international migration as a livelihood strategy. All during the neoliberal period are often attributed to the
three structural shifts were fundamentally catalysed war, an assessment made particularly compelling when
by the rationale of centralising economic activity in considered in light of post-war investment and the
select urban settings of the Sinhalese-majority Western tourism boom along Sri Lankas south-west coastline.
Province. As Kelegama notes; Some have gone so far as to claim that the rapid

Polity | Volume 7, Issue 2 55


intensification of mass temporary labour migration to in the post-1977 economy (Shastri 2004, p. 85). The
West Asia was itself a response to the war (Sriskandarajah wartime economy was thus sustained through the
2002). While the emigration of Tamil refugees has contradiction of its own inception; class antagonisms
unambiguously been linked to the war, data from the and unemployment produced under neoliberalism
Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) were vented through the conflict they helped create
clearly demonstrate that large-scale temporary labour and so obfuscated deep-seated macroeconomic frailties.
migration of Sinhalese and Muslim populations began Acute class inequalities were therefore maintained
almost immediately after migration restrictions were throughout the conflict, even if the war itself curtailed
lifted in 1977, and increased most rapidly in the early the extent to which investment and accumulation could
years before the war (SLBFE 2012). In a similar vein, be undertaken by local capitalists. In 2009, a bloody
arguments that economic decline only occurred due and unilateral end to the war eased these constraints
to the war tend to lose credibility when the causality is and paved the way for post-war reconstruction in the
reversed by more substantiated evidence that the 1977 manner of accumulation by dispossession. Unwilling
economic reforms and non-inclusive development to demilitarize its 200,000 strong army both for
aggravated existing ethnic tensions (Richardson Jr. reasons of structural unemployment and the forceful
2004). While the Tamil population continued to preservation of Tamil subordination the Sri Lankan
experience discrimination within the open economy, so government has since overseen investment in retail
too did the Sinhalese poor endure material hardships. franchises, tourist developments, and the planned
Living amidst polarising class relations, but without opening of new industrial parks and export processing
the ethnically-entitled patronage of the state-regulated zones (JDI 2011). Given that capital investment in
economy, many working-class Sinhalese developed an the North and East is typically sourced from outside
acute sense of relative deprivation (Gunasinghe 2011, these regions, the state appears complicit in preserving
p. 11). The second JVP insurrection aside, popular ethnic fractures by transitioning military conquest into
discontent was not directed at the state, partially economic subjugation.
because the states economic accountability was
concealed behind the supposed impartiality of the free
The Gendered Economy of Export Production
market and partially due to violent repression of the
labour movement (Biyanwila 2011). Discontent was The 1977 reforms entailed significant reconfigurations
instead readily lent to ethnic antagonisms stirred by of the nature and extent of womens participation in
unscrupulous politicians (Manor 1984; Tambiah 1986) paid employment (IPS 2013), with female labour
and Sinhalese capitalists struggling against Tamil and force participation rates jumping markedly despite
Muslim businesses benefiting from transnational trade 40,000 job losses associated with the decline of the
connections after the removal of import restrictions local handloom industry (Kottegoda 2004, p. 63). This
(Gunasinghe 2011, p. 195). Thus, despite only two increase is given meaning by the creation of several
notable ethnic clashes in the 60 years prior, the 1977 EPZs that centralized garment manufacturing in urban
elections preceded six years of incessant ethnic rioting areas, most prominently the Katunayake and Biyagama
and culminated in the 1983 Black July riots that left EPZs located just outside of Colombo (Sivanthiran
up to 3000 Colombo Tamils dead, thousands more 2008), as part of the governments concerted attempt to
internally and internationally displaced, and catalysed further integrate the labour of young Sinhalese women
the commencement of the civil war (Gunasinghe 2011, into global production networks. The geographical
p. 176). reconfiguration of the economy around urban export
production reinforced existing patterns of uneven
The war itself was undeniably harmful for Sri
development by undermining rural employment
Lankas economy insofar as it deterred FDI, disrupted
opportunities and necessitating internal migration to
the tourist economy and prompted huge swathes of
EPZs in order to find work.
GDP to be earmarked for military expenditure over
public investment (Kelegama 2006, p. 136). However, Yet the defining feature of this new avenue of
the rapid growth of the armed forces also acted as an accumulation was its specific subordination of a
economic safety valve providing mass employment gendered (and more recently ethnicized) workforce. A
for the same economically marginalized Sinhalese sexist rhetoric of nimble fingers (Elson and Pearson
men left politicized by their relative deprivation in the 1981) was mobilized alongside existing patriarchal
wake of neoliberal reforms. Indeed, alongside export parameters to construe garment work as an extension of
manufacturing and migration, the armed services formed household care work, and thus the domain of womens
(and remain) one of three major avenues of employment work in form and in function. Patriarchal notions of

56 Polity | Volume 7, Issue 2


what constitutes appropriate work marginalize a participation in productive employment has politicized
majority of Sri Lankan women from better paid work in tensions between socially ascribed work and care
high-growth and professional industries, irrespective of roles. Young women working in garment factories are
qualifications and educational attainment (Gunatilaka pejoratively branded Juki girls or Juki pieces (in reference
2013, p. 3; Kotikula and Solotaroff 2006, p. 3-4). At to a common brand of sewing machine), connoting
the same time, this rhetoric ensures that women remain disposability and sexual promiscuity with the inference
over-represented in the most labour-intensive, poorly- that work and urban life have compromised the chastity
remunerated occupations that together comprise the and respectability that women are expected to embody
backbone of Sri Lankas export economy (Kotikula and as symbols of the nation (Lynch 2007, p. 10). Women
Solotaroff 2006, p. 3). In the post-war period this has are thus subordinated, materially and culturally, as an
been compounded by ethnic discrimination, as Tamil exploitable mainstay of productive and reproductive
women fleeing poverty in the underdeveloped North labour.
many of whom are internally displaced persons have
been integrated into the garments industry on unequal
terms (Fernando 2013). Tamil women working in Temporary Labour Migration: Foundations of the
the Katunayake EPZ have been seen to experience Remittance Economy
discrimination in terms of employment and working The third reconfiguration of economic life under
conditions, while their segregation from Sinhalese neoliberalism is found in the beginnings of temporary
women is reportedly being used by employers to shore labour migration to West Asia. In addition to liberalising
up ethnic tensions and undermine attempts at collective labour migration itself, the Jayawardene government
bargaining (Fernando 2013, p. 21). privatized the role of the Foreign Employment Unit
A contradiction thus emerges, wherein social (established by Sirimavo Bandaranaike just a year
constructions of women as bastions of reproductive earlier), allowing recruitment agencies to proliferate
labour are fractured by the reality of a sexual division within a loosely regulated system of migration practices
of labour that situates women as breadwinners working (Gamburd 2000, p. 51). Local and regional contexts
within the most exploitative tiers of production. Women conspired to make recruitment a lucrative business. Oil-
constitute approximately 85 percent of all employees driven accumulation in the Persian Gulf had created
within Sri Lankas EPZs (Department of Labour 2010), huge surpluses and the attendant demand for migrant
while also comprising the majority of estate workers labour to perform the manual work necessitated by
within tea and rubber plantations (Kotikula and infrastructural expansion and the domestic labour
Solotarof 2006) and, until very recently, the majority sought by increasingly wealthy Arab households (Eelens,
of temporary labour migrants (DCS 2012). Tea and Mook, and Schampers 1992, p. 5). Meanwhile, declining
garments alone account for over half of all of Sri Lankas rural livelihoods and the lack of decent work generated
trade earnings, while migration brings in remittances under neoliberal patterns of accumulation left much of
equivalent to 66 percent of exports (CBSL 2016). A the Sri Lankan population predisposed to meet such
patriarchal mode of production, formalized under demand particularly women, whose opportunities
colonialism and restructured through neoliberalism, were greater due to the excess demand created by the
has curtailed womens economic life to the performance prohibition of female migration amongst other labour-
of menial labour in circumscribed spheres of work: sending countries (Eelens, Mook, and Schampers 1992,
Indentured to plantations, exploited in factories or p. 5). While foreign incomes for both sexes could
without rights within the private homes of foreign notably outstrip local wages, the increasing costs of
employers (Withers and Biyanwila 2014). While the recruitment fees meant that agencies, sub agents and
extent of womens participation in these avenues of brokers the merchants of labour were accumulating
employment is substantially tempered by religious significant wealth while migrants themselves faced
background, with notably less participation in the difficulty financing their placements abroad (Eelens
domestic workforce from Muslim and Christian women and Speckmann 1992). These escalating financial
(Gunatilaka 2013, p. 11), what is fairly universal are the obstacles, paired with the well-documented physical
long hours, low-wages, and lack of labour rights typically and psychological hardships of indentured employment
associated with the feminization of export production in West Asia (ILO 2010), speaks to temporary labour
as a cheaper, more competitive alternative to unionized migrations emergence as a survival strategy pursued
male labour (Standing 1989; Standing 1999). Despite less by choice than by necessity. Meanwhile, the state
the adverse conditions of womens employment and its itself benefitted greatly from increasing departures.
significance for the export economy, womens increased Temporary labour migration circumvented pressure

Polity | Volume 7, Issue 2 57


to generate employment locally, stymieing potentially While select rural extremities have experienced
destabilising political and economic tensions, while some large infrastructural projects that leverage the
remittances brought in foreign exchange urgently interests of capital, Sri Lankas development policy
needed to sustain the economic policies of the UNP has been emphatically urban in its concentration on
government (Eelens, Mook, and Schampers 1992, p. Colombo. With Colombo having long held Singapore
4). By effectively deferring the contradictions of uneven as a template for its idealized self, both the Rajapaksa
development, the structural dynamics of temporary and Sirisena governments have invested heavily in
labour migration have safeguarded the continuation urban development that through their respective port
of accumulation by subordination elsewhere in the city and megapolis projects aspire to modernize
economy. in the image of the South-East Asian city-state. The
It is against the backdrop of this neoliberal recently resuscitated port city project intends to create
restructuring that temporary labour migration has an offshore section of the city built on reclaimed land,
taken root as an increasingly common survival strategy providing more landmass earmarked for business, hotels,
for populations geographically and demographically and a Formula One circuit. Meanwhile, the megapolis
excluded from development. The accompanying project is a US$ 20 billion undertaking that entails a
growth of remittances as a unique form of capital more long-term restructuring of Colombo into distinct
has since informed a migration-driven model of zones, with dedicated shopping, entertainment, and
underdevelopment that warrants further scrutiny. cultural districts situated in areas that were until recently
slum housing occupied by Colombos poor (David
2011; Dissanayake 2016). Described by the Urban
Development Authority (UDA) as city beautification,
Throughout the migration literature there is a tendency development-induced displacement has resulted in
to portray the foreign exchange earnings provided by involuntary urban resettlement programmes that,
remittances as axiomatically beneficial to the migrant- although usually accompanied by upgraded facilities,
sending economy. This assumption is frequently held by often disrupt the lives of the poor as communities,
authors otherwise critical of temporary labour migration and livelihoods endemic to the heart of the city are
practices, positioning foreign exchange receipts as a reassembled on its outskirts (Stenholm 2015).
silver lining to an exploitative and risk-laden survival
strategy. The Sri Lankan corner of the literature is no This disruption to the urban landscape has been
different, with several studies highlighting important justified on the basis of the intention to transform
constraints and challenges faced by migrant households the whole Western Region as the most vibrant and
while treating the macroeconomic benefit of aggregate liveable cosmopolitan Smart City Region in South
foreign exchange earnings as self-evident (Athukorala Asia creating opportunities for all its inhabitants and
1992; Kageyama 2008; Karunaratne 2008; Eversole investors, achieving the highest environmental standard
and Shaw 2010; Gunatilleke, Colombage, and Perera and quality of life, ensuring sociocultural harmony,
2010). and expanding its position as the preferred location for
business and industry (MMWD 2016, p. 130).
The implicit logic is that remittances are vital in
providing the foreign exchange earnings necessary to The Ministry of Megapolis and Western
prop-up the current account against countervailing Development (MMWD) candidly states, The low-
trade deficits, thereby keeping the rupee strong and income community regeneration programs are urgent;
stable. A stronger rupee, in turn, keeps imports especially to release the economic corridors occupied
affordable and allows the government to accrue foreign by them (MMWD 2016, p. 105). Such intentions
reserves, which ease existing loan repayments and clearly benefit local and foreign capital, which is
enhance creditworthiness for further international clustered in and around Colombo and largely invested
borrowing needed to finance ongoing developmental in the services sector the plan intends to promote, but
projects. With remittances comprising the single does little to accommodate the urban poor let alone
largest source of export earnings for Sri Lanka, and the the majority of the population that lives outside the
principal cushion in the Balance of Payments since the city or even the Western Province. By concentrating
early 1990s, it is easy to understand why this stability development so acutely on Colombo as a city-state in
might be construed as positive. The major problem with waiting, Sri Lanka is perpetuating a historical pattern
this reasoning is that any potential for developmental of uneven development that marginalizes the vast rural
benefit is highly contingent on how the government economy. None of the loans taken to finance these
utilizes the money it borrows. projects would be possible without the foreign exchange

58 Polity | Volume 7, Issue 2


earnings provisioned by migrant remittances, as Sirisena Conclusion

well knows, having returned to less-stringent Chinese
The open economy story is one of intensified uneven
borrowing after dwindling foreign reserves undermined
development processes that exploit and exclude along
the viability of obtaining Western finance.1 At the same
and across class, ethnic and gendered divisions. These
time, those remittances essential in financing long-
processes are evident in economic expressions of ethnic
term commitments and debt obligations depend
violence bookending the civil war, the reorientation of
on the continuation of structural pressures to migrate
capital accumulation within export processing zones
arising from uneven development. The arc of Sri
and the garment industry, and the steady growth of
Lankas developmental vision attests to the reality of this
temporary labour migration. All three trends reproduce
growing contradiction.
the same mechanics of accumulation by subordination
This observation returns attention to the historical enshrined in the plantation economy: the calculated
processes of accumulation by subordination that have exploitation of disempowered populations to underpin
shaped Sri Lankas economy, repeatedly restructuring the capital accumulation for an insular bourgeois minority.
relations of production by stoking existing class, gender, Sri Lankas promotion of foreign employment
and racial tensions in order to disempower labour and thus emerges as a logically consistent outgrowth of
accumulate capital. Sri Lankas otherwise unsustainable historical structures of uneven development rekindled
path of remittance-led development signals a more under neoliberalism. An escalating macroeconomic
sophisticated embodiment of this same logic. By dependence on remittance capital is an integral aspect
marginalising rural populations from development, of this story, as the outsourcing of unemployment via
Sri Lankas current developmental policy subordinates migration has generated foreign exchange necessary
migrants and would-be migrants, shifting the relations to finance urban development projects undertaken in
of production not by facilitating their involvement the interests of local and foreign capital. This invokes
in local production, but by loaning their labour to a profound contradiction, wherein the poor indirectly
foreign employers. Remittances, representative of the finance and uphold a vision of development that they
wage component of that labour, represent the return on themselves are resolutely excluded from.
that loan: At once actual income sufficient to reproduce
migrant populations in lieu of development, and also
an abstraction of that income in the form of foreign 1 The stance on China has completely changed, cabinet spokesman
exchange earnings. It represents, in essence, an exchange Rajitha Senaratne told Reuters. Who else is going to bring us money,
of unwanted poverty for much-needed loans. given tight conditions in the West? (Aneez 2016).

The use of those loans to finance development projects

that cater to the urban economy and the interests of References
local capital therein is, along with the redistributive
Aneez, S 2016, Short of Options, Sri Lanka Turns Back to Beijings
effects of household remittance expenditure, the Embrace, Reuters, 11 Febrauary, viewed 10 October http://de.reuters.
central mechanism through which accumulation is com/article/sri-lanka-china-idUKL3N15M0BU
facilitated. Macroeconomically, this amounts to a fragile
Athukorala, P 1992, The Use of Migrant Remittances in
paradox, whereby local capital accumulation occurs Development: Lessons from the Asian Experience, Journal of
independently of export growth and dependent upon International Development, vol. 4, no. 5, pp. 51129
migrant remittances, which can only occur insofar as
uneven development persists. It further accounts for the Biyanwila, J 2011, The Labour Movement in the Global South: Trade
Unions in Sri Lanka. Routledge, London and New York
relative inaction of Sri Lanka, and other labour-sending
countries, in addressing the rights and conditions of Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), 2016, Economic and Social
migrant workers in West Asia; the risk of disturbing Statistics of Sri Lanka 2016, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Colombo
the countervailing inflow of remittances poses too great David, A 2011, UNP Unveils Megapolis Plan for Western Region,
a threat to a precariously balanced the economy. As The Sunday Times, 18 September, viewed 14 May 2017 at http://www.
Gibson-Graham have argued, the degree of political
control exerted by both migrant-sending and migrant-
De Silva, S F 1948, The New Geography of Ceylon, The Colombo
receiving countries to manage migration is in this Apothecaries Company, Colombo
instance a manifestation of the close relationship
between state and the interests of capital (Kottegoda Department of Labour (DOLUS), 2010, Promoting Fundamental
Principles and Rights at Work in Sri Lanka (20092011), Department
2004, p. 176). of Labour, Colombo

Polity | Volume 7, Issue 2 59


Dissanayake, C 2016, Megapolis: The City of Dreams, Daily News, Karunaratne, H D 2008, International Labour Migration,
29 January, viewed 14 May 2017 at Remittances and Income Inequality in a Developing Country: The
features/megapolis-city-dreams Case of Sri Lanka, Keizai-Shirin: Hosei Economic Review, vol. 15, no.
3, pp. 21-65
Eelens, F M T & Schampers, T 1992, Introduction, in Eelens, F M
T & Schampers, T (eds.), Labour Migration to the Middle East: From Kelegama, S 2006, Development under Stress: Sri Lankan Economy in
Sri Lanka to the Gulf, Kegan Paul International, London Transition, Sage Publications, London

Eelens, F M T & Speckmann, J D 1992, Recruitment of Labour Kotikula, A & Solotaroff, J 2006, Gender Analysis of Labor in Sri
Migrants for the Middle East, in Eelens, F M T & Schampers, T Lankas Estate Sector, viewed 14 May 2017 at http://paa2007.
(eds.), Labour Migration to the Middle East: From Sri Lanka to the
Gulf, Kegan Paul International, London
Kottegoda, S 2004, Negotiating Household Politics: Womens Strategies
Elson, D & Pearson, R 1981, Nimble Fingers Make Cheap Workers: in Urban Sri Lanka, Social Scientists Association, Colombo
An Analysis of Womens Employment in Third World Export
Manufacturing, Feminist Review, vol. 7 (Spring), pp. 87107 Lynch, C 2007, Juki Girls, Good Girls: Gender and Cultural Politics in
Sri Lankas Global Garment Industry, Cornell University Press, New
Eversole, R & Shaw, J 2010, Remittance Flows and Their Use in York
Households: A Comparative Study of Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the
Philippines, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. Manor, J (ed.) 1984, Sri Lanka in Change and Crisis, St. Martins
175202 Press, New York

Fernando, M 2013, Ethnic Discrimination: The Post Armed Conflict McNally, D 2006, Another World Is Possible: Globalization and
Economic Challenges of Tamil Women, Womens Centre Sri Lanka, Anti-Capitalism (Rev., expanded edn.), Arbeiter Ring Publications,
Colombo Winnipeg, MB

Gamburd, M R 2000, The Kitchen Spoons Handle: Transnationalism Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development (MMWD), 2016,
and Sri Lankas Migrant Housemaids, Cornell University Press, New The Megapolis: Western Region Master Plan, viewed 14 May 2017
York at
Gunasinghe, N 2011, Newton Gunasinghe: Selected Essays (edited by
Sasanka Perera), Social Scientists Association, Colombo Richardson Jr. J M 2004, Violent Conflict and the First Half Decade
of Open Economy Policies in Sri Lanka: A Revisionist View, in
Gunatilaka, R 2013, Womens Participation in Sri Lankas Labour Force: Winslow, D & Michael, D (eds.), Economy, Culture and Civil War in
Trends, Drivers and Constraints, International Labour Organisation, Sri Lanka, Indiana University Press, Bloomington
Shastri, A 2004, An Open Economy in a Time of Intense Civil
Gunatilleke, G, Colombage, S S & Perera, M 2010, Macroeconomic War: Sri Lanka, 1994-2000, in Winslow, D & Michael, D (eds.),
Impact of International Migration: A Case Study of Sri Lanka, Economy, Culture and Civil War in Sri Lanka, Indiana University
Project Report Submitted to South Asia Network of Economic Research Press, Bloomington
Institutes (SANEI), Report 10-06, MARGA, Colombo
Sivanthiran, A 2008, Promoting Decent Work in Export Processing
Harvey, D 2003, The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press, Zones (EPZs) in Sri Lanka, viewed 14 May 2017 at http://www.ilo.
Oxfordand New York org/public/french/dialogue/download/epzsrilanka.pdf

Indraratna, A D V de S 1990, The Agonies of a Small Open Economy Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), 2012, Annual
(Sri Lanka) and Remedial Options Open to It, Faculty of Economic Statistical Report of Foreign Employment 2011, Sri Lanka Bureau of
Studies, University of New England, Armidale, N.S.W. Foreign Employment, Colombo
Sriskandarajah, D 2002, The Migration-Development Nexus: Sri
Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), 2013, Sri Lanka: State of the Economy Lanka Case Study, International Migration, vol. 40, no. 5, pp. 283
2013, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, Colombo 307
International Labour Office (ILO), 2010, International Labour Standing, G 1989, Global Feminization Through Flexible Labour,
Migration: A Rights-Based Approach, International Labour Office, World Development, vol. 17, pp. 107795
Standing, G 1999, Global Feminization Through Flexible Labour: A
Japan Development Institute (JDI), 2011, The Study on the FDI Theme Revisited, World Development, vol. 27, pp. 583602
Promotion Policy Review and SEZ Development Strategy for Sri Lanka,
viewed 14 May 2017, Stenholm, N 2015, Gendered Perspectives on Rehabilitation After
H22/jdi_srilanka22.pdf Involuntary Resettlement in Urban Sri Lanka. Masters Thesis,
University of Helsinki, Helsinki
Jayawardena, K & Kurian, R 2015, Class, Patriarchy and Ethnicity on
Sri Lankan PLantations: Two Centuries of Power and Protest, Orient Tambiah, S J 1986, Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling
Blackswan, Telangana of Democracy, University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Kageyama, A 2008, Extent of Poverty Alleviation by Migrant Withers, M & Biyanwila, J 2014, Patriarchy, Labour Markets and
Remittances in Sri Lanka, South Asia Research, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. Development: Contesting the Sexual Division of Labour in Sri
89108 Lanka, IIM Kozhikode Society & Management Review, vol. 3, no. 1,
pp. 3343

60 Polity | Volume 7, Issue 2

You might also like