BIRMINGHAM, UK — Researchers at the University of Birmingham say that manufacturers must redesign and reform their global supply chains or global production networks if they want to survive and prosper in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They recommend manufacturers switch from large production sites in a single location, such as China, to numerous smaller facilities around the world to reduce business risk.

The researchers used a database of 91 American companies to show that the current dominant account of globalization cannot explain the international strategies of 25 percent of these firms. However, they found coronavirus highlights that the most effective GPNs balance cost control against risk, by balancing production facilities in core markets against over-reliance on facilities located in lower-cost locations.

The rapid speed and economic impacts of COVID-19 have shifted the balance between state, citizens and businesses within national economies. During the pandemic, the state has engaged in a process of nationalization with its exceptional degree of support for businesses and employees – becoming a key consumer and surrogate employer.

Researchers highlight that the most common operational response amongst American firms to the China-US trade war involved relocating suppliers from China to another low-cost country. However, the impact of COVID-19, has seen firms beginning to develop strategies dealing with supply chain disruptions – with larger firms building regional supply chains, leaning more on technology for smaller firms, and focusing on efficiency and resilience.

According to report coauthor Professor John Bryson, “There is a real tension between optimization of GPN and risks, which ripple out across the globe. COVID-19 is the first time that these ripples have impacted on every country and the majority of people living on this planet.

“It is unfortunate that companies, governments and geographers did not consider the outbreak of SARS in late 2002 as a testbed to develop new approaches to the management of risk. GPNs and offshoring, come with many risks that have been ignored. There is a critical social science debate within geography that must move from celebrating the dominance of GPNs as an organisational form, to an ongoing critical reframing that accepts that a fundamental rethink is required by global manufacturing concerns.”

“COVID-19 has highlighted the risks associated with increasing interconnectedness of people and places through economic, political, cultural, and environmental changes,” adds Bryson. “Existing thinking on GPN design minimizes costs and maximizes economic ‘value’ rather than balancing profit against risk reduction - a high-risk approach that must change. We must reframe the debate on globalization around the benefits and risks associated with deepening globalization.”