The recent weeks have been challenging and new to most of us, to say the least. The temporary collapse of global mobility, local businesses shutting down, and people staying at home while health systems across the world cope with corona patients is one of the most extreme situations wealthy countries have seen in the past few decades.
In light of that, businesses that are usually on the top of politicians’ lists to be taxed, regulated, nationalized, or shut down are demonstrating how much value they produce for society.
I already wrote a few weeks ago that I am thankful this crisis is happening in 2020 and not 20 years earlier given all the digital innovations we have (online pharmacies, online collaboration tools, online grocery delivery, online you name it…). A fellow German-British writer compared it even to 1995.
Many businesses have shown how important and vital their recent innovations are in times of social distancing and lockdowns. But beyond that, some businesses have gone further and have been able to very quickly innovate, adapt, and leverage their strength to cope with this societal challenge we are all facing. Some of these are usually being criticized by politicians such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren or EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager for being too big or having too high of a market share.
The reactions of some of these businesses to COVID-19, though, show that their unique structures might actually be the reason why we need them especially now.
Getting testing kits to millions quickly: The e-commerce giant Amazon recently announced that they will shoulder most of the logistics of getting COVID-19 testing kits to millions of UK residents. It’s existing know-how and capacity that will allow Amazon to deliver these kits much faster than most government institutions would be able to provide.
While the Formula One season is on hold, the Mercedes F1 team teamed up with academics to simplify and reengineer breathing aids for COVID-19 patients. Within ten days, they were able to produce the first ventilators and will soon be able to deliver hundreds to those who need them. This will directly help reduce bottlenecks in intensive care units. The automotive industry, which has been heavily under attack in recent years for its carbon footprint is starting to mass-produce ventilators for hospitals. It’s good that they have this manufacturing capacity.
The baseball jersey manufacturer Fanatics halted its conventional production and switched to making masks and gowns for medical workers. Consumer electronics company Razer switched (despite increased demand for their core products) some of their production lines from making computer mouses to surgical masks and donating them to countries like Singapore.
And while the Mayor of London has tried everything to shut down the ride-hailing app Uber in London, that same company has offered hundreds of thousands of free rides and meals to employees of the UK National Health Service (NHS).
Many travel and hospitality companies acted fast and retrospectively improved the cancellation and rebooking terms for customers that made bookings even prior to the corona crisis. This might help them to attract customers to their brand for the long-term and encourage people to start traveling once again.
Many European brewers and distillers began switching parts of their production from spirits to hand sanitizers and often donated these to authorities or customers. A subsidiary of British American Tobacco is even working on a potential vaccine for the virus. This is something politicians should remember the next time they plan to go after the alcohol or tobacco industry.
A big shoutout is of course also necessary to all the pharmaceutical and biotech companies working on testing kits (Roche and Abbott), treatments (Gilead), and vaccines (e.g. Johnson and Johnson) for COVID-19. The same goes for farmers, agrochemical companies, and retail stores that ensure food security and (mostly) full shelves these days.
These are just a few examples of extraordinary innovative and agile responses to this crisis. Usually, these companies are in the business of helping consumers. Now, they’re helping society at large.
Many governments failed to be prepared for this situation. The World Health Organization actively told the public even in January that human to human transmission of the coronavirus is unlikely. Fortunately, we have entrepreneurs and smart business leaders to help us to cope with the problems that result from this massive failure of public health in so many countries (with Korea and Taiwan being some of the few positive examples of being prepared).
So the next time Senator Warren wants to crack down on large technology companies or EU Commissioner Vestager wants to create European champions while keeping foreign companies out, we should remind them how valuable the Amazons, Ubers, and Johnson&Johnsons were in times of COVID-19.
The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.
The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org