How will we judge multinationals when the epidemic is over?

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Mar 11, 2020 – swissinfo>ch

Employees at the greatest risk are those who don’t have the luxury to work from home.
(Keystone / Matteo Bazzi)

Our regular analysis of what the biggest global companies in Switzerland are up to. This week: responsible business in an epidemic, child labour on coffee farms, and Responsible Business debate.
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What has made multinational companies in Switzerland so successful is exactly what is making them particularly vulnerable in a global epidemic.
In the Financial Times last week, Ian Goldin, author of the Butterfly Defect, wrote that “The super-spreaders of the goods of globalisation are also super-spreaders of the bads.”
This pretty much sums up Switzerland, which has one of the highest per capita infection rates of the novel coronavirus. It is also one of the top ten countries exposed to Chinese supply disruptions as a result of the outbreak, having lost out on some $1 billion in exports in February.

Sizing up the full economic fallout could take a while, but the people hardest hit will not be the CEOs. They are those who sew together the surgical masks, clean hospital beds, and stock supermarket shelves. It is those who don’t have the luxury to work from home and who don’t have a steady salary or savings to lean on when companies cut back.

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While Switzerland can afford to cushion the blow for workers inside the country, how multinational companies respond to the crisis beyond desk jobs at their headquarters in Baar or Basel will determine how well they rebound and are ultimately judged by the public when this is all over.

This also pertains to the pharmaceutical industry, which accounts for a third of Swiss exports, and has so far been fairly quiet on R&D plans on Covid-19. Many big companies have abandoned emerging infectious diseases and instead opted for more lucrative areas like oncology and rare diseases. Was this the right move?

How do you think global companies should be responding to the Covid-19 outbreak? How has it impacted your work? Drop me a line. [email protected]
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SWI swissinfo.ch, a branch of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation

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