The path that is leading China to achieving its long-term sustainability goals is undoubtedly devious and riddled with challenges, despite the huge progress that the country has made in the areas of renewable energy and poverty alleviation.
As for now, the COVID-19 outbreak represents a serious health issue as well as an enormous challenge when it comes to keeping the country’s economy afloat. However, while the business world may be facing arduous obstacles, the current epidemic breakout seems to shine a new light over some positive signals concerning China’s progress in sustainable development.
China’s war on wildlife trade
As a direct result of the Coronavirus outbreak, renewed attention has been given to the trade and consumption of wildlife.
The country’s top legislative committee has in fact approved the proposal of prohib-iting and abolishing the illegal wildlife trade and overconsumption. Previous bans were adopted in past years, including after the death of hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-03 because of the SARS virus, but they were all proven to be ineffective and short-lived.
According to health experts, transporting, butchering and consuming wild species exposes humans to a significant and growing public health risk due to the danger of animal-borne pathogens.
After the explosion of the epidemic across the country, China ordered a temporary ban, but conservationists and virologists called for a permanent prohibition with tough enforcement, stating that a temporary directive was not enough. Such re-strictions may therefore allow for China’s centuries old traditions of wild animal use for exotic medicines to finally be debunked.
Wuhan wet market (businessinsider.com)
Telecommuting and greater work flexibility
The inevitable lockdown period, which has involved 48 cities in China, has inadvert-ently forced many enterprises to rethink the traditional working schedule in order to stay productive.
On a wider scale, the increasing use of telecommuting and teleconferencing could lead many companies to revise their travel policies, a measure which not only would contribute to huge savings on time and costs, but also enhance the reduction of the carbon footprint of large businesses.
Awareness of the country’s public healthcare issues
Despite the media’s highlight on China’s ability to build two hospitals in ten days, the country’s healthcare system is weak and fragile, since it has long suffered from a lack of resources and from unfavourable conditions, especially in the rural provinces.
The emergency of the recent outbreak has somehow given a new status to the fig-ures of doctors and medical staff workers, who are suddenly hailed and treated like heroes by China and around the world, starting with doctor Li Weng Liang, whose courage was acknowledged only after his death.
Amid the great chaos, the spotlight shining on the doctors, who are using all of their strength and abilities to fight the disease, will definitely contribute to raising their role to the position they deserve in society as well as to improve their working condi-tions and draw attention to their rights and interests. Hopefully, the epidemic will al-so point out the need for a greater engagement with the doctors and nurses across the country’s public health service.
Patients with coronavirus treated in Wuhan. (washingtonpost.com)
Strategizing China’s traditional philanthropy efforts
Many forms of traditional philanthropy have for sure been used in the past and have often led to the foundation of many companies today, but if, on the one hand, tradi-tional philanthropy conceived as cash donations has helped businesses flourish in the past years, on the other, it has often proved to be unfocused or tied to specific business objectives to ensure that contributions reflect the values of the organization.
The COVID-19 outbreak has, however, witnessed the efforts of tech giants such as JD.Com and Alibaba, that not only increased their tech capabilities to make sure communities received the supplies needed, but also announced they were hiring 20,000 additional workers to support those whose jobs were affected by the disease.
Supply chain resilience
As one of the main global economic powers, China’s electronic sector accounts for 28 per cent of the industry globally, while its share of the global textiles industry is 40 per cent. Therefore, the fact that China’s industries make up 16 per cent of the world’s economy is no surprise.
Having said that, it isn’t hard to believe that the current outbreak has affected the entire global market, as well as China’s own economy, particularly by exposing com-panies to vulnerabilities in their supply chains, which represent a threat to business continuity.
The difficulties companies are facing in dealing with these issues will most likely re-sult in them taking a more proactive approach to managing risks in their supply chains by identifying potential disruptions in the future and ensuring they are dealt with more carefully and seriously.
A lesson in empathy
It is undeniable that the current Coronavirus outbreak has fuelled sentiments of hos-tility and racism, especially towards the Asian communities spread worldwide, but in many ways it has opened doors to a greater public communication. Not only has public discourse allowed individuals to reflect on their own unconscious prejudices, but it has also given the possibility to scientists and researchers from all around the world to start analysing the virus and developing test-kits and a vaccine: an example of this cooperation is given by the researchers of the Spallanzani hospital in Rome, who managed to isolate the virus for the first time. While I write, the COVID-19 is still an urgent matter that is causing much damage and turmoil in many countries. However, the greatest lesson humanity could possibly learn from this situation is one of empathy: global collaboration requires govern-ments and businesses to work together united toward a common goal.