Managing the Commercial Impact of the Coronavirus: An Effective Supply Chain Response Plan

“We are in a phase of preparedness for potential pandemic . . . Let’s focus on what we can do and need to do, which is prepare.” (~ Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies Programme, quoted during a press briefing this week)

The coronavirus (provisionally named SARS-CoV-2, with its disease being named COVID-19) has now been documented in six of the world’s seven continents, with more than 80,000 cases, sparing only Antarctica. Closer to home, the message this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was clear: the coronavirus is spreading and will get worse – not better – in the near term. The outbreak is greatest in countries located in Asia and now, Europe. The Principal Deputy Director of the CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat, held a press briefing on Tuesday, stating that “current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic.”   

At the epicenter of the coronavirus is the important worldwide manufacturing hub of Wuhan, China. The recent spread to other major manufacturing hubs further impacts the global economy and supply chains in ways not seen since the SARS outbreak in 2003. Coronavirus fears are being blamed for the S&P 500 losing an estimated $1.737 trillion in value in just two days this week. 

At the center of the financial impact is the growing disruption to worldwide supply chains across many industries. The impact is being acutely felt by automotive manufacturers, who build vehicles on a just-in-time basis and depend upon a timely and uninterrupted supply of materials and components. China is reportedly responsible for more than $40 billion of parts production for the automotive industry, including $20 billion for customers located in the United States. The mandatory evacuation and closure of many businesses in China has closed the operations of many manufacturing facilities and distributors located in China’s 23 provinces, including the Hubei Province where Wuhan is located. Although initially the impact of the coronavirus was muted by parts that were on hand, parts that were already in shipment, and parts held in suppliers’ safety stocks, as the coronavirus outbreak deepens, that supply will undoubtedly run short. This is confirmed by reports of parts shortages by various original equipment suppliers (OEs) across the world, including in China (where car sales are estimated to drop by 40% in the first two months of 2020), the United States and Europe.

But, the impact to the supply chain goes beyond the automotive industry, affecting virtually every sector, including manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, technology, solar and more. In fact, according to, 94% of Fortune 1000 manufacturers are being hit with disruptions as a result of the coronavirus.1  While there are reports that a very limited number of suppliers in the most affected regions have resumed operations, many have not, and now there are reports of manufacturing operations being interrupted in Europe (for example, in Serbia and Italy). Some companies have already extended plant closures into mid-March. In the case of manufacturing, it just takes one missing part to shut down a production line, and the damaging ripple effect of a material or parts shortage quickly spreads throughout the supply chain. 

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to develop, now is the time for manufacturers to develop and execute an effective supply chain response plan in order to mitigate their risk and prepare for how they will address any interruption to either their operations or those of a critical supplier. An effective coronavirus response plan should include the following:

Supply Chain Operations. First, companies should establish an interdisciplinary crisis response team to identify, assess and manage the risk to the supply of materials and parts necessary to continue to maintain production and quality. The team should include personnel from purchasing, operations (plant level), quality, finance and legal. 

M&A Agreements. Companies who are parties to definitive M&A agreements should review any “Material Adverse Change” (MAC) clauses, and representations and warranties, to assess the potential impacts of the coronavirus on their transaction.  For attorneys drafting and reviewing definitive M&A agreements now, care should be taken in crafting or reviewing appropriate MAC clauses, representations and warranties and other provisions to take the potential impacts of coronavirus into account.  On the buy side, enhanced focus on supply contract due diligence is recommended.   

Reporting Requirements. Public companies should review and make accurate required disclosures, in the event that business operations are impacted such that a reporting requirement is triggered. All companies who are parties to credit agreements and other financing arrangements should review existing MAC clauses, and potential impacts on the borrower’s financial covenant compliance, in order to determine whether any proactive conversations with lenders may be warranted. 

Insurance. Companies should review insurance policies to determine possible coverage in the event of a business disruption, and comply with all applicable notice requirements.

Employment Concerns. The challenges for any business facing coronavirus or any other disease outbreak involve a multitude of conflicting legal obligations.  Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and similar state laws, employers have a general duty and obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment, even when the work occurs outside the employer’s physical premises. Furthermore, under these health and safety laws, employers must not place their employees in situations that are likely to cause serious physical harm or death.  Conversely, overreacting by implementing broad-based bans and making business decisions about employees that are not based on statistical realities could get an employer sued under laws that prohibit discrimination based upon disability (perceived or real) and national origin discrimination, among others. Properly planning for and implementing plans to deal with the coronavirus is legally and operationally complex. For more information on specific action employers should take, please click here.

In summary, it is important for manufacturers to take additional steps now in order to mitigate their risk of suffering negative impacts from the coronavirus. For more information about this, please contact your Foley relationship partner. For additional web-based resources available to assist you in monitoring the spread of the coronavirus on a global basis, you may visit the CDC and the World Health Organization

© 2024 Foley & Lardner LLP
National Law Review, Volumess X, Number 58