Be prepared for swine flu

12 August 2009
The panic-weary among us will conclude that swine flu is the latest “pandemic du jour” – that we have seen the alarming (or is that alarmist?) headlines before. And that, in all probability, no more people will succumb to it than did to bird flu, SARS and BSE (remember that?). I am among this group. Every year there is something that “threatens” to strike us all down. It is then forgotten about. Well, I was in that group. That is, until two people I know got it. And now more people are taking time off work because of it. Plainly the figures of actual cases remain way below the official forecasts of tens of thousands of people, but it does look like a growing problem. And what will this mean for procurement? As we report on page 5, legal experts are advising buyers to check contracts to see what provision they make for this type of eventuality. You could interpret this advice as confirmation that there is no unanimity among lawyers that this will be covered. If it is, it will probably form part of force majeure. But in other cases pandemics won’t be specified at all in supplier agreements. Either way now is the time to check with vendors to assess what it is they would (will) do if large numbers of their workforce are suddenly absent. If force majeure can be invoked the suppliers will still need to demonstrate they have taken steps in advance to deal with the risk. And if the current pandemic isn’t covered, that isn’t going to make the problem go away. The suppliers need to be able to demonstrate they have a plan in place. And once swine flu has passed, maybe we can hire all those lawyers to introduce new clauses to cover the effects of the next pandemic.
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