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Dr. Yossi Sheffi is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he serves as Director of the Center for Transportation & Logistics.

After the Swedish retailer H&M announced recently that it was concerned about the use of forced labor to produce cotton in China’s western region of Xinjiang, the company faced a boycott in the country. H&M was pulled from a major e-commerce site and blocked by leading search engines. Similarly, Nike, Adidas, Burberry, and New Balance, who expressed similar concerns as part of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), were criticized in the People Daily (the Communist Party official paper), which called for a boycott of these brands.

As ominous as these stories sound, the situation is going to get a lot…

The global shortage of semiconductor chips that is disrupting supply chains in the automotive and consumer electronics industries is forcing chipmakers to decide which customers’ orders to fulfill when product is in short supply.

How do chipmakers allocate product fairly, profitably, and in such a way that they do not alienate customers and inflict long-term damage on their businesses?

This problem often arises when large-scale disruptions create scarcities of vital components for an entire industry. Companies need to think about how they are going to address this challenge.

Multiple market forces

Much of the current problem is rooted in the well-known bullwhip effect…

Photo by Marc Rafanell López on Unsplash

As delays in Covid-19 vaccinations inflict an increasing toll of deaths and economic ruin upon the US, the newly inaugurated Biden administration is releasing all doses of approved vaccines in federal storage to the states. The aim is to speed up the rate of inoculations.

Several healthcare experts have warned against this action due to the risk of not having enough vaccines for a second jab. These critics are wrong because failing to increase the pace of vaccinations poses graver risks.

Mutants multiply the chances of infection

The main long-term risk to the vaccines’ effectiveness is that Covid-19 might mutate to evade the immune systems of…

In mid-December 2020, the US bumbled into one of the biggest leadership failures in the modern era. After heroic science and astute government funding delivered new vaccines in record time, the US botched the Covid-19 vaccination campaign’s roll-out.

To put the scale of the debacle into context, let’s compare the US performance to that of tiny Israel.

After a slow start at the end of December 2020, the US geared up to vaccinating 500,000 people per day, according to Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser to Operation Warp Speed, a figure described as “hopeful” by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director…

Temporary storefronts called “pop-up” shops are an established feature of the retail landscape, but how about “pop-up” fulfillment centers? Walmart is reportedly adopting the latter as part of its efforts to cope with the holiday surge in e-commerce traffic and maintain high service levels for its fast deliveries.

The transient fulfillment center is symptomatic of more profound changes in last-mile supply chains inspired by e-commerce demands. Nowhere are these changes more evident than in warehousing. …

It may be difficult to appreciate while the coronavirus pandemic still rages, but companies will be more resilient when they come out of the crisis than when they entered it.

This is one of the key lessons to emerge from the extensive research I carried out for my new book The New (Ab)Normal: Reshaping Business and Supply Chain Strategy Beyond Covid-19. The book details the mayhem unleashed by the pandemic and the impact on companies, especially their supply chains. Countless enterprises were hit and some — notably in the hospitality business — were decimated, but many persevered and will prosper…

As I have argued many times, current efforts to combat climate change are well-intentioned but doomed to fail. They ignore the economic realities that make it difficult for consumers and businesses to support low-carbon consumption. (For more on these arguments, see my posts “Corporate Hot Air No Substitute for Real Action on Climate Change” and “Why We Need a New Manhattan Project to Combat Global Warming”.)

Proponents of these efforts now maintain that the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic give their approach to combatting climate change even more impetus. …

There is a lot of talk about China losing favor in the business world. For example, CNBC recently argued that they see a significant number of companies moving operations out of China. One commentator claimed that the production of toys and cameras is going to Mexico, the manufacture of personal computers is moving to Taiwan, and automotive manufacturing is finding new locations in Thailand, Vietnam, and India. According to Forbes, “new data shows US companies are definitely leaving China.”

Much of the blame for this change in sentiment is laid at the door of the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, a…

COVID-19’s lockdowns have required people to replace much of the in-person communication they conducted at work — as well as with customers and suppliers — with virtual meetings on platforms such as Zoom, Teams, and Hangout. When the coronavirus crisis subsides, will people return to physical meeting places or cling to the virtual equivalents they have become familiar with?

The dilemma is especially acute when thinking about meetings with faraway suppliers and customers. In such cases, the pressure to avoid expensive trips and time away from families may reduce the frequency of face-to-face meetings.

We don’t know for sure what…

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended employment in two vital respects: it has caused a global shift towards telecommuting as well as mass unemployment. How will these trends play out as the crisis evolves and, ultimately, the coronavirus is defeated?

Answers to this question will have a profound effect on where people physically work in the future and their job prospects. In both cases, the short- and long-term outcomes are different, and the outlook for global work patterns is decidedly mixed.

Fallout from the telecommuting wave

One of the “aha” results from the pandemic and the shelter-at-home period is that many…

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