- Says Sri Lanka will remain a significant sourcing destination for the retail giant
- Notes that the country must leverage on its strategic and accessible location
- It will be essential to promote Sri Lanka as a potential investment destination
In the late 1990s, global retail giant and Britain’s largest retail chain Tesco
sought to establish its apparel sourcing for its own apparel brand from Sri Lanka. Formally
setting up the Sri Lankan sourcing office in 2001, the company started working with a number of
manufacturers and suppliers who have become crucial to the success and standards of its ‘F&F’
Over the years, Tesco has curated a fruitful working relationship with most of its local sourcing
partners. In addition to the business generated through their agreements, the company also
works to empower and uplift its sourcing partners and their workforce through special programs
“Sri Lanka is, and will remain a significant sourcing destination for Tesco. We are proud of the
partners we have been working with thus far, and we will continue to partner them as we move
forward as well,” states Azmina Kareem, General Manager for Tesco.
Kareem, who is also the Vice Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Apparel Sourcing Association,
enthusiastically expressed her confidence in Sri Lanka’s apparel industry and the success of
end-to-end operations albeit the challenges the country has faced over the last two decades.
When Tesco initially entered the Sri Lankan market, the country was in the midst of a 20 year
civil war, which continued for almost a decade, ending in 2009. This was followed by the
pandemic in 2020, which drastically slowed down and sometimes halted operations across all
industries in the country. And in the last year it was the economic and political crisis which has
led to social unrest.
Despite it all, most international businesses continued to operate and fulfil their requirements
while continuing to contribute towards the country’s economic recovery by enabling local
manufacturers and suppliers to keep their businesses afloat.
In the apparel sector alone, it seemed that “the industry was essentially protected despite the
ongoing adversities, as industry associations such as the Joint Apparel Association Forum
(JAAF), the Export Development Board of Sri Lanka (EDB) and the apparel industry as a whole
supported the workforce to ensure that manufacturing continues,” notes Kareem.
“During the periods of crisis, the impacts on our shipments and sourcing activities were minimal,
and I would also say that we had some of the best service levels during this time because
labour was constant, and this was recognized by Tesco, despite opposing views being put out
by media and other platforms. Undoubtedly, Tesco feels optimistic and strong about Sri Lanka’s
Meanwhile, Kareem went on to note that “Promoting Sri Lanka to potential investors would be
important as the country’s strategic location alone provides a vast opportunity to promote and
attract foreign direct investments (FDIs) which are critical, and will become a massive
advantage for Sri Lanka.
On an international level, although Sri Lanka is equipped with the Generalised Scheme of
Preferences Plus (GSP+) in the UK and the European Union (EU), the GSP to the UK will be
replaced with the Developing Country Tariff Scheme (DCTS) in December of 2023.
Most brands such as Tesco itself rely on Free-Trade Agreements (FTAs) such as this with
countries such as Sri Lanka, for cost-effective sourcing and logistics. This high level of
efficiency, coupled with the highly skilled workforce, has increased the dependency for raw
material supplies from countries like Sri Lanka, for global brands like Tesco.
“There are so many advantages to sourcing in Sri Lanka, which are globally recognized. The
resilient nature of Sri Lankans, to stand strong amidst challenging times, given the country a
reputation as one of the most reliable manufacturing and sourcing regions in the world, even
pioneering ethical sourcing,” Kareem said.
“We work with a supplier base that has high standards ethically and technically conforming to
the compliance the brand expects. Further investments are being made for sustainability and
ESG improvements across the supply base. Suppliers are actively investing further on
technology and improving their operational efficiencies. But more importantly, it’s the approach
to upskilling and uplifting their workforce and communities. This is what sourcing in Sri Lanka
also means to us. It’s world-class.”