Reader in Development Geography at the Institute of Geography, University of Edingburgh

Fellowship : January to June 2020

Discipline(s) : Geography

Pays : United Kingdom

Research Project: "Garments without Guilt? Global labour justice and ethical codes in Sri Lankan Apparels"

Sri Lanka Joint Apparel Association Forum’s (JAAF) foundational premise is that it produces ‘Garments without Guilt’ and makes claims of positioning itself at the vanguard of ethical production. This posturing is quite in contrast to its apparel producing South Asian neighbours, where media exposure constantly reveals exploitative labour conditions, factory fires and/or factory collapses, often with devastating consequences to the lives of workers. These claims made by JAAF acknowledges how Sri Lanka’s strong social development foundation and national labour legislation system offer it a solid foundation to make claims around ‘garments without guilt’. Equally, the industry itself has made great strides, with investment in state-of-the-art eco-friendly factories, for instance, illustrative of its future aspirations for growth. Since the end of the war, Sri Lankan apparel investment expansion to former North and East of post-war Sri Lanka signal its commitment for the long haul. Within this post-war context, it is important to appreciate how workers understand their factory jobs. My project aims to focus on how labourers interpret discourses around global and social justice claims in a post- war setting, where employment creation within the apparel sector is offered as a panacea towards peace and reconciliation. During my time as an France-ILO Chair Fellow, I want to bring together my decade long research on the apparel sector of Sri Lanka as it makes the transition to a post- war context with continued political volatility and violence.


Kanchana N. Ruwanpura is a Reader in Development Geography. She was born and grew up in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Until recently, she was the Programme Director for the MSc in Environment and Development (2015-2019) at the Institute of Geography and served as one of two Directors at the Centre for South Asian Studies (2014-2018); both at the University of Edinburgh. Since completing her PhD at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, she has worked at University of Southampton (UK), Hobart & William Smith Colleges (USA), University of Munich (Germany) and the International Labour Office (Switzerland).

Much of Dr Ruwanpura’s research has focused mostly on Sri Lanka and more generally South Asia. Her research has been funded by ESRC, BA, ERC, UNICEF and she has twice been a Humboldt Fellow (AvH). She has published extensively on her research, which explores the intersection between feminism, ethnicity, labour and post-war development; and currently serves as an editor for two internationally peer-reviewed journals within: Gender, Place & Culture and Geoforum.


RUWANPURA, Kanchana N. and Shirlena Huang, Gender in Asia, Edward Elgar International Handbook on Gender Series (Forthcoming 2020)

RUWANPURA, Kanchana N., "Militarized Capitalism? The Apparel Industry’s Role in Scripting a Post-War National Identity in Sri Lanka", Antipode , 2018, 50(2):425-446

RUWANPURA, Kanchana N. and Alex Hughes. "Empowered Spaces? Management Articulations of Gendered Spaces in Apparel Factories in Karachi, Pakistan", Gender, Place and Culture, 2018, 23(9):1270-1285

RUWANPURA, Kanchana N., "“Garments without Guilt?” Uneven Labour Geographies and Ethical Trading – Sri Lankan Labour Perspectives", Journal of Economic Geography, 2016, 16(2):423-446

RUWANPURA, Kanchana N., Matrilineal Communities, Patriarchal Realities: A Feminist Nirvana Uncovered, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press and New Delhi: Kali for Women/Zubaan Books, 2006