Coronavirus and Globalisation: What’s next for supply chain sustainability?

The coronavirus pandemic has left global economies at a standstill and knocked the confidence in global and connected trade.

The question has been asked: would businesses benefit from pivoting to more localised value chains, as France President Macron advocates, or do global supply chains enable a global shift towards a climate-resilient future?

While that is open to debate, the damage caused by the coronavirus is there for all to see, in hard figures. In what has been described as “an ugly” situation, the World Trade Organisation has forecast a decline in international trade and commerce of between 13% to 32% this year.

The World Trade Organisation has forecast a decline in international trade and commerce of between 13% to 32% this year

The virus is having a huge impact on transport and productivity with many supply chains being affected. Manufacturers are trying to shift the structure of their supply chains to make up for missed deliveries or inputting pivoting systems to make different products entirely.

PPE and hand sanitiser are two obvious examples where this is the case. Turning whiskey into wine was not an unfamiliar process before the outbreak, but how many distilleries would have imagined they’d end up making products that people would raise a glass to because they made them safe not happy?

The world has been turned upside down in so many respects.

Sustainability to suffer in the long run?

With this shift in supply chain structure comes concerns, that the short-term focus placed upon operational capacity and processes could unravel efforts to integrate suppliers into more sustainable practices.

As data from the Financial Times reveals, COVID-19 has unmasked an overt reliance on manufacturing suppliers located in China, with 300 of the world’s top 500 companies owning facilities in Wuhan, the city where the pandemic began.

It has become more and more apparent that, for many organisations, the globalisation of manufacturing has created a scenario where supply chains are unprepared for disruption.

This is due to either being very localised or spanning several different countries, it can even be to the point where end-user businesses won’t be aware of associated links to deforestation, human rights abuse and other environmental and ethical factors.