The global pandemic has laid bare how international free trade relies on fragile and poorly understood supply chains. These supply chains are optimised solely for efficiency and just-in-time availability and, as a result, lack both transparency and resilience.
Supply chains started to break down almost immediately at the beginning of the pandemic, causing basic items to be rationed in supermarkets. Adding to the strain, international, online shopping exploded. As lockdowns have ebbed and flowed in countries around the world, production and distribution in this global trade system has buckled.
The scale of the current disruption due to lockdowns in China, as highlighted in the image below showing how many vessels are waiting to enter the port of Shanghai (compared to a pre-COVID normal – second image), contributed to Amazon shares tumbling recently, after the company’s e-commerce sales fell over the year.
Companies, including Amazon, issue sustainability statements which ought to be based on supply chain transparency. Yet the last months and weeks have shown these same companies have little understanding or control of their supply chains; and these supply chain pressures aren’t going away anytime soon.
Companies, industries and countries are struggling to create effective risk plans for world events that throw their supply chains into turmoil. Not a surprise given a growing number of experts are repeatedly warning about a coming “era of pandemics”.
What is ironic is that this general chaos was triggered because the line between humans and exotic animals has long been breached for trade purposes. The irony comes from the fact that for decades no investment has been made in ensuring the legal wildlife trade supply chain is transparent and well managed. Ignoring the risks this trade posed, to provide the exotic fashion accessories, food, décor, pets and more that cashed up consumers wanted, has brought world trade to a standstill.
The root cause of the pandemic gets minimal attention, even though the WHO now says it has killed 15 million people and also over 10 million children have lost a parent or caregiver, creating an orphanhood crisis unprecedented in modern history.
Thankfully some scientists are taking notice, with one report published in recent months heavily criticising the approaches by global bodies and governments that focus only on preventing the spread of new viruses once they have infected humans, rather than also tackling the root causes. “That premise is one of the greatest pieces of folly of modern times,” said Prof Aaron Bernstein, of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University, who led the new assessment. The report details three key actions to minimise the risk of future pandemics: global surveillance of viruses in wildlife, better control of trade in wildlife, and stopping the razing of forests.