9 April 2020
Product Protection – 1 of 14 Insights
Supply chain operations continue to feel the impact of COVID-19, with many key manufacturing hubs being hit the hardest. Those companies heavily reliant on China for products, raw materials or component parts are experiencing unprecedented disruption. Challenges include:
Supply chains are facing long lead times, delivery delays and failures to supply, as well as non-availability of goods and the need for alternative sourcing arrangements. As cash flows inevitably tighten, non-payment of goods will also be an issue. There have already been reports in the media of high profile retailers suspending payments to suppliers for existing stock due to lack of demand.
Appointing new suppliers on an urgent basis carries additional risks. Are there existing exclusivity arrangements in place? Can all new suppliers be traced? How do you audit product quality and safety systems when due diligence is limited? Product regulators have temporarily relaxed compliance for certain emergency products but not for broader application and existing safety standards will apply. Businesses may also need to re-structure customer service procedures to ensure compliance with statutory warranties and consumer rights for repairs or replacements.
It can be difficult to plan ahead and mitigate risks in times of crisis. Existing supply chain arrangements and insurance policies should be reviewed to assess exposure. Insurance coverage will depend on the precise wording of the policy and any exclusions. Business interruption claims do not always include losses from a general decline in demand.
There is value in seeking advice at an early stage to avoid common pitfalls in commercial negotiations such as a waiver of rights, unlawful termination or inadvertent contract variation, and to help secure a resolution to preserve trading relations. Key supply terms such as indemnities, liquidated damages and force majeure will all be important.
Finally, termination – often seen as a last resort, despite the ongoing disruption and uncertainty – should not be triggered without legal advice and a viable exit strategy which mitigates exposure where possible.
by Multiple authors
Wilson v Beko  EWHC 3362 (QB)