A PESTEL ANALYSIS OF COVID-19

INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY

Coronavirus (commonly known as (COVID-19) is one among the family of coronaviruses that cause illnesses such as common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)[1]. Some of the identified COVID-19 symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, fever, muscle or body aches, sore throat, headache, fatigue, new loss of taste or smell, vomiting and nasal congestion or runny nose[2]. COVID-19 can be severe; the viral infection has caused increasing number of deaths in many countries since its discovery in Wuhan, China in December 2019[3]. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), scientists are still learning more about COVID-19 each day, but older adults and people who have certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness and even death[4].

covid-19

THE ORIGIN OF COVID-19

Scientists derived the name “coronaviruses” from the crown-like spikes that appear on their surfaces when seen under a microscope[5]. COVID-19 is therefore one of the large family of viruses, which are commonly exist in humans and different species of animals (such as bats, cats, camels and cattle). There are many types of human coronaviruses, but COVID-19 is a new disease that has not previously been seen in human beings[6].

Human-to-human infections caused by animal coronaviruses are rarely seen as was evident in two previous coronaviruses namely MERS-CoV[7] and SARS-CoV[8]. However, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is considered a beta coronavirus when compared to MERS-CoV[9] and SARS-CoV. One major similarity is that the origin of all three viruses has been traced to bats. The sequences from the US patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, thus, consolidating claims that COVID-19 pandemic emerged from an animal reservoir. Nonetheless, global scientists are still investigating the exact cause of this virus[10].

WHAT IS PESTEL ANALYSIS?

A PESTLE analysis is a model used to gain insight into the basic macro- and micro-environmental factors that have direct impact on the performance of organizations[11]. The acronym PESTEL stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal[12]. Francis J. Aguilar developed the model in his 1967 book on “ETPS,” a mnemonic he used to depict 4 aspects of his taxonomy vis-a-vis: economic, technical, political and social factors. Aguilar’s book opened up the lines of communication and analysis, thus, the Harvard Business School professor is celebrated as the founder of PEST analysis although his popular analytic tool did not start as PEST[13].

Firstly, the author of this paper chose a PESTEL analysis because it is a powerful tool that enables business managers to positively align with the powerful forces of change within macro and micro environments[14]. With good understanding of PESTEL, business leaders can take advantage of change to consistently increase productivity and achieve competitiveness[15]. Secondly, good use of PESTEL analysis helps managers to streamline organizational activities with less-risky and fail-proof strategies. Thirdly, PESTEL is useful before, during and after new products/services are launched, mainly because it helps users to avoid risks of assumptions during research reports, business/strategic planning, marketing planning, and business/product development reports. Generally, PESTEL helps users to quickly adapt to changing realities within any business environment[16]. The author therefore used the strategic tool to broaden understanding of the pandemic’s impact on global economies, with much emphasis on the three political systems analysed in this research[17].

PESTEL ANALYISIS APPLICATIONS

This section provides some traditional areas of business where the PESTEL Analysis can be applied (e.g. business planning, marketing, product development, and organizational management.

  • Business Planning

PESTLE Analysis provides entrepreneurs and business managers with a safe start for new business endeavours and/or different ideas to be integrated in an existing plan. It provides the business leaders and top management executives with data, feedback and information about relevant factors that are capable of influencing business decisions, activities and outcomes. When the PESTEL framework is used along with a SWOT Analysis, it can help identify previously unknown factors (within the organization) or new trends in a familiar business ecosystem (that is, external factors) which users can explore to create value and increase competitiveness. Basically, a SWOT Analysis refers to the identified organizational strengths and weaknesses (also known as internal factors) and the opportunities and threats from the external business environment that should be considered during the decision-making process to avoid negative outcomes.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was shortage of masks, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), oxygen and even drinkable water—among other essential products. Manufacturing companies were incapacitated due to the lockdown, quarantine measures, and unexpected disruptions in the supply chain. But using innovation and strategic management (based on PESTEL Analysis of the COVID-19 era), and the need for corporate social responsibility (CSR), other companies in the manufacturing sector (e.g.. perfume and alcohol) converted their facilities to produce and distribute safe water in various geographical locations.

  • Marketing

PESTLE Analysis has huge relevance in the marketing domain. It greatly influences marketing plans and their implementation strategies—either for a product or service. The PESTEL model also determines the most effective strategies to be applied in marketing (based on information obtained through the analytical analysis) to differentiate products/services, increase market visibility, and achieve sustainable profits..

The global e-commerce sector experienced business boost at the peak of the COVID-19 period due to lockdown rules that accelerated use of media advertising and online shopping platforms. Similarly, governments and healthcare organizations/professionals explored the mass communication channels as the major outlet for disseminating information on how and why people should use face masks and hand sanitizers as well as other individual safety measures capable of controlling the virus. Using the PESTEL Analysis, grocery vendors and some eat-in restaurants (including pharmacies) established or liaised with logistics companies to sustain service delivery to consumers’ doorsteps.

  • Product Development

Product differentiation in business requires knowledge of the external factors such consumer behaviours, purchasing power of buyers, social trends, technology integration, innovations by competitors. The PESTEL framework therefore proves relevant in decisions about the 4Ps of Marketing (Product, Price, Place, Promotion). However, the benefits of technology diffusion in business cannot be ignored—even during a crisis period. For example, COVID-19 guidelines restricted movements but stirred initiatives among innovators, scientists, technicians and pharmacists to produce effective, safe and affordable drugs, health management systems, and highly responsive internet-based and AI-powered telehealth services.

  • Organizational Management

While PESTLE Analysis takes into account the major external features, it also affects organizational structure and internal functioning, especially in leadership, work process and decision making. For example, the PESTEL Analysis may concern the political makeup of the organization or the fiscal factor of project funds, thereby determining the success or failure of every business.

Many organizations paused activities during the lockdown but eventually closed down due to management-related challenges. Managerial incompetence arising from poor understanding of the business environment as well as lack of strategic/innovative management ideas were some of the main causes of failure during the pandemic. Many businesses in the post-COVID 19 era, including healthcare organizations, are experiencing low sales and decreasing turnover due to inadequate support for creative ideas and poor use of the PESTEL analysis.

  • Research

PESTLE Analysis is a good way to study the environmental factors affecting project planning, implementation, and performance assessment. While it may be rewarding to apply the PESTEL framework in a particular project, evidence-based studies show there may be unexpected risks in other projects (within similar conditions) that will require users to adjust or change current strategies. For example, it takes between 5 to 18 years and costs about $200-$500 million (£149-374 million)  to develop a vaccine[18]. It is a lengthy, complex process where few candidates proceed from early stages of discovery to approval and manufacturing[19]. To ensure safety throughout research and development, vaccine developers have historically employed a sequential process, marked by frequent pauses for data analysis and quality improvement.

But there was need to change traditional timelines and workflows when the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus 2 (SARs-CoV-2) virus began spreading in late 2019 and early 2020. With millions of people worldwide contracting coronavirus starting in late 2019 (COVID-19), vaccine developers were faced with the enormous challenge of producing a safe, effective vaccine in months, not years, to help stop the global footprint of the deadly disease. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a research roadmap that established a global imperative to accelerate research as “a moral obligation to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible.[20]

Through research and development (R&D), scientists and innovators are changing vaccine development—now and in the future—by leveraging collaboration, not competition. Also, stakeholders in the global healthcare ecosystem are willingly sharing the common goal of countering the virus by providing long-term immunity. Generally, every individual and household across the world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and all hands are on deck against the virus. Everyone is therefore expected to avoid cutting corners on safety, immunogenicity, or compliance.

A PESTEL ANALYSTS OF COVID-19

P-POLITICAL FACTORS

“P” emphasizes the important role of politics in business. Considering that there is a correlation between regulated systems and free markets, and the fact that global economics supersedes domestic economies, the “P” in PESTEL requires organizations to weigh various threats and opportunities before expanding into new regions, product segments, or sales initiatives. Thus, political factors have direct impact on organizational decision-making process and may even help determine the location of corporate headquarters.[21]

The impact of COVID-19[22] on political systems is enormous; the pandemic has disrupted politics at domestic and international levels, having caused indefinite postponement of legislative activities, isolation or deaths of numerous politicians in many countries[23]. Elections were postponed due to fears of spreading the deadly virus, and this led to questions on the relative advantages of autocracy and democracy, particularly on state response to crises situations and the level of emergency preparedness[24].

The United States of America

COVID-19 is a ruthless killer[25]; the disease holds no political views, and its pathogens only aim to contaminate, spread and thrive in humans. On social policies (e.g. welfare policies), Americans are deeply divided by politics on matters relating to the handling of COVID-19[26]. According to an update from HealthDay/Harris Poll, Republicans are less likely to be worried than Democrats about the pandemic, thus, less likely to take steps to end the infection. Similarly, twice as many Republicans agree that America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is overblown – 52% versus 26% of Democrats, the survey from HealthDay/Harris Poll shows[27]. On the other hand, 8 out of 10 Democrats (i.e. 82%) said they “always” use facial masks when going out compared to 66% of Republicans. Twice as many Republicans also think there’s no need for restrictions on public gatherings (i.e. 55% versus 26% of Democrats)[28]. Thus, disregard for social distancing and COVID-19 guidelines was a major factor in the high number of deaths recorded across the United States[29].

The United Kingdom

COVID-19 timeline in the United Kingdom[30] shows successes and failures in governmental efforts to control and prevent the disease[31]. Political disruptions caused by COVID-19 raised serious concerns when Health minister Nadine Dorries and MP Kate Osborne tested positive to the virus. The surge in UK infection rate eventually led to the one-year postponement of local elections on 13 March 2020, a decision which remains Britain’s longest postponement of democratic elections. Fear of COVID-19 therefore led to the scaling of political activities in the UK[32], Welsh and Scottish parliaments, prior to Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s announcement of the national lockdown on 23 March 2020. The PM and UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, including Labour Party MP Angela Rayner (the Shadow Secretary of State for Education) and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty later tested positive to the virus during the lockdown[33].

In addition to the COVID-19 impact on stability of governments, a major policy issue in the UK started with different medical associations protesting corruption[34] and dangerously low levels of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which endangers patients’ health. UK ministers were blamed for failing to ensure availability of quality PPE, thereby exposing both patients and health workers to the scourging virus[35] — and the negative effect on employee morale, engagement, and productivity levels cannot be overemphasized. Britain has however surpassed other EU Member States in the number of people vaccinated against COVID-19, with a very high number of whistleblowing activities and employment litigations[36].

EU Member States

The Coronavirus pandemic exposed political disharmony among EU Member States. Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez suggested a unanimous adoption of an effective response to COVID-19 in order to avoid the attendant political and economic crises[37]. The Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte supported this idea with highlights on the consequence of negligence to the European project. Conte also stated that “the whole European project risks losing its raison d’être in the eyes of our own citizens”. But tax policies, trade regulations, and entry mode regulations are a major obstacle to the suggestions[38]. For example, Germany banned exportation of PPE and France restricted exports of medical equipment to other countries. Although the action from Germany and France attracted widespread criticisms, it underscores the ineffectiveness of EU as a political union[39].

Conclusion

The overall attitude of Americans towards COVID-19 containment and prevention is deeply swayed by their political leanings[40]. In the UK and many EU Member States, the issues hinge on poor governance and inadequate investment in the health sector. The emergence of COVID-19 has therefore raised political debates on (i) politicisation of beliefs about the novel coronavirus (ii) the effectiveness of existing whistleblower frameworks[41] and (iii) the availability of adequate mechanisms for international cooperation. In some cases, the pandemic has greatly undermined and destroyed the roots of democracy.

E-ECONOMIC FACTORS

 “E” in the PESTEL framework refers to the economic metrics that influence the success or failure of organizations. The economic factor to business survivability is relevant to this study because global economies are constantly changing/adjusting to high-impact events in the macro and micro systems[42]. Some of the identified determinants (e.g. health crisis, unemployment, inflation, currency devaluation, international trade laws etc) have direct impact on business growth—as well as economic development—and this highlights the importance of strategic management in volatile business environments. For example, the rate of COVID-19 infections and unprecedented number of daily death tolls around the world necessitated tight restriction on movement and public gatherings, which is a widely accepted disaster management strategy with huge economic implications[43]. COVID-10 pandemic represents the largest economic shock the world has ever known; the short- and long-term effect on global business, human interactions, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reflects on the increasing impoverishment of global economies as seen in record low investment, widespread inflation, fragmentation of global trade and recession in both developed and developing countries[44]. Although governments and global institutions are taking extraordinary measures (such as technical assistance, financial support, monetary/fiscal policies etc) to reduce COVID-19 impact on business, the responses from businesses in the U.S., UK and EU vary to an extent.

The United States of America

International trade declined with the onset of COVID-19 pandemic. During briefings to stakeholders, several US companies cited the viral outbreak as reason for poor financial performance[45]. The declining levels of productivity, sales volume, and turnover were primarily due to over-dependence on foreign consumer markets. In the early COVID-19 pandemic period, some U.S.-owned companies operating manufacturing facilities in mainland China warned against possible exposure to supply shortages[46] which eventually crippled the technology sector (Silicon Valley) and others[47]. US stocks nosedived by 7% in March 2020 and caused a temporary halt in trading. Businesses were ordered to close indefinitely and price hike as well as food shortage followed. Other economic-factor example includes the hoarding and/or supply shortage of facial masks which caused panic buying and sudden rise in unit cost prices, especially in Asian-majority provinces where residents scrambled to buy facial masks for delivery to relatives in China and neighbouring Asian countries[48].

The United Kingdom

Business closures caused by COVID-19 guidelines together with Brexit-related challenges[49] are some of the major causes of economic contractions in the United Kingdom. The COVID-19 pandemic also reduced credit accessibility and significantly lowered disposable income of buyers[50]. However, companies such as Deliveroo (which renders takeaway delivery services), Sports Direct (seller of gym equipment), and online grocer Ocado recorded short-term increase in demand. But the mentioned companies are quite the minority because majority of companies in the UK manufacturing sector experienced significant plummet in earnings. For example, JCB (heavy equipment manufacturer) on 13 February 2020 stated plan to reduce working hours and production rate due to shortages in supply chain caused by the pandemic[51].

British airliner Flybe on 5 March 2020 also downsized 2,000 staff after failing to secure financial support from stakeholders[52]. Eventually, the airline which previously controlled the highest percentage of UK domestic flights acknowledged the impact of COVID-19 is partly to blame for its collapse[53].According to a 2020 report from the UK Office for National Statistics, activities in the accommodation and food service industry declined to 75% while other industries traded at 85%. The survey also showed that 45% of UK companies experienced a decrease in turnover, 37% experienced no impact on turnover, whereas only 10% experienced an increase in turnover compared with what is normally expected for the period under consideration. Approximately 50% of businesses in three industries experienced a decrease in turnover when compared with 45% across all industries. The low-performing industries include: (a) accommodation and food industry (72%); the arts, entertainment and recreation industry (69%); and the education industry (private sector and higher education businesses only), at 57%. Remarkably, the administrative and support service activities industry experienced highest percentage of decrease in turnover at 46%, when compared to other industries[54]. Conversely, businesses in the wholesale and retail trade industry recorded the highest percentage of increase in turnover, at 16%.

EU Member States

Many EU Member States are currently facing recession due to factory shutdown and shortage of raw material caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and government orders to suspend production[55]. Except in China and the United States, EU countries (Italy, Spain, and UK) are the most affected by COVID-19. For example, Ferrari S.p.A. suspended production for many weeks in compliance with restriction order from the EU government[56]. While Ferrari and Fiat are expected to begin production, Jaguar Land Rover Automobile Plc (a part of Tata Motors[57]) closed its production plant and has remained closed in line with the government advise to reduce the spread of new coronavirus variant[58].

Conclusion

COVID-10 pandemic requires urgent action to cushion the devastated health and economic consequences and protect vulnerable populations in both developed and developing economies. A timely intervention will set the stage for a lasting economic recovery[59].

S-SOCIAL FACTORS

“S” in the PESTEL framework refers to the mentality of individuals or consumers in a given market[60]. It is relevant to this paper because social metrics (e.g. exchange rates, GDP, and inflation) are some of the crucial factors that determine success/failure of businesses[61]. Additionally, these social factors have huge implications for business administrators and global managers, especially in economic crisis situations where social indicators can tell when it is favourable to borrow as well as how an economy might respond to certain changes in consumer behaviours[62].

The COVID-19 pandemic has social implications and profound outcomes beyond its exponential infection rate that scourged across countries and continents. For example, quarantine orders were necessary in the governments’ efforts to control public health[63]. Yet, the psychosocial effect of human restrictions cannot be ignored. Moreover, full lockdown as was imposed in many cities/countries is particularly detrimental to the vulnerable members of every society such as older persons, people living in poverty situations, persons with disabilities, youth etc[64]. This implies that the health and economic impacts of the virus are disproportionately borne by poor/vulnerable members of the society. For instance, a homeless person has a higher risk of contracting the infection because it is impossible to safely shelter in highly-exposed public places[65].

The United States of America

Low-income earners have higher exposure to COVID-19 and are more likely to die from it[66]. In the US, New York City witnessed a large number of infections and deaths in low-income neighbourhoods and hypotheses for the reason include that (a) poorer families are more likely to live in crowded apartment buildings[67] and (b) get hired in low-skill jobs such as elderly care and shopping malls that are considered high-risk areas during a pandemic. Additionally, millions of low-income Americans were exposed to COVID-19 because they lack access to quality health as unemployed and uninsured members of the society[68]. These examples highlight the impact of social factors such as population demographics and distribution of wealth.

The United Kingdom

COVlID-19 challenges in the UK exposed some prevalent social factors that have direct impact on business. Evidence-based research shows UK’s overall literacy level is rated high, but misconceptions about the virus and baseless claims on its origin triggered unexpected changes in people’s lifestyles and habits[69]. For example, the rate of animal cruelty increased in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic due to fear that the virus originated from pets and could be contracted through direct contact[70]. This situation led to the abandonment of pets thereby congesting animal shelters and increasing their financial burdens. But while more Americans abandoned their pets for safety reasons, their UK counterparts tended to keep and acquire more pets during the lockdown[71].

Inequitable distribution of wealth among UK residents is also a social factor that influenced disobedience to lockdown orders[72]. For example, the majority low- and middle-income earners who could not afford to either stay off work and at the same time pay bills for long periods—not even to stock their homes with food stuff before the lockdown, considered hunger worse and deadlier than the virus[73]. Thus, the poor segment of the society faced higher risks of infection due to their social status and disobedience to the law.

Additionally, social isolation from family and friends due to COVID-19 guidelines and grief for loved ones, including fear of unemployment and financial challenges, led to a spike in suicide rates within the UK[74]. COVID 19-related shock is one of the reasons for high unemployment rate, low turnover and business closure in Britain[75].

EU Member States

Among other policy responses across the EU Member States, lockdown measures remained at the national level with national coverage as leaders discuss wider range of recovery policies to be formulated.[76] Such policies implemented at both EU Member States and non-member states within Europe have varied territorial impacts due to the fragmented nature of the EU Directive and lax implementation approach adopted by member countries[77]. Therefore, restrictive measures across Europe resulted in very different regional situations which exposed some regions to more intense and long-lasting social consequences than others[78].

Conclusion

In EU Member States, the UK and the US where territorial health development plans are highly interdependent[79], closing national borders was necessary[80] but its disruptive effects on the labour market also has serious psychosocial implications for everyone[81].

T-TECHNOLOGICAL FACTORS

“T” in the PESTEL framework emphasizes the technology-related opportunities and threats to every business. Discussion on the technological factors that affect because growth is relevant because the staggering number of COVID-19 deaths and its negative implications for global business has necessitated a sudden shift more disruptive technological and scientific solutions[82]. For example, global healthcare organizations are leveraging technological advancement to improve clinical care and telehealth services[83]. Companies in the private and public sectors can also optimize work process and increase competitiveness by exploring the huge benefits of technology in areas such as customer relationship management (CRM) and product/service differentiation. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly accelerated digital transformation in small-, medium- and large-scale businesses all over the world. For example, remote jobs in the Coronavirus era enable many people to juggle home-schooling for their children while effectively handling professional responsibilities amid stay-at-home orders. In additionally to, technology trends such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, drones, vehicle animation and cloud revolution, webinar platforms (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Google Meet) gained wider acceptance in the business domain because they don’t just limit physical interactions between humans but accelerate speed of communication as well as increase productivity levels[84]. Technology adoption has therefore become a new trend for organizations aiming to adjust business strategies and sustain profits in the post-Coronavirus era.

The United States of America

COVID-19 badly damaged US industrial production. For example, total output in the manufacturing, mining and utility sectors declined in March 2020 and the trend has continued for over a year with very insignificant improvements[85]. This sharp fall presents a huge challenge for the US economy, particularly the manufacturing sector, which offers jobs to more than 12 million workers. The Joe Biden administration is therefore focused on stimulating the manufacturing sector (with tax exemptions, incentives[86], and backward integration policy) because most companies in the main economic sector depend on employees whose jobs cannot be carried out remotely[87].

The United Kingdom

The impact of COVID-19 crisis on the UK technology sector varies by industry subsector; for example, the UK construction industry subsector suffered minimal losses than its past record from the global financial crisis (2007–09) era mainly because of access to government infrastructure stimuli and significant improvement in the e-commerce sector[88]. On the other hand, companies dealing in steel production equipment subsectors, including specialized firms in machine tools and plastics machinery, have experienced a higher negative impact in their businesses. Additionally, industrial production in the car manufacturing subsector experienced a surge in consumer demand,[89] and as R&D investments continue to drive innovation in the UK, the prospects for sustainable economic growth are quite high[90].

EU Member States

At the onset of COVID-19 and its remarkably gripping fears across Europe, government and business leaders dialogued on more effective ways to control spread of the deadly virus[91]. Among the emergency response objectives are the need to protect residents and frontline workers, as well as to keep supply chains moving efficiently[92]. But the lockdown across Europe was an isolated solution. Health professionals/administrators required new technologies (including electrification, connectivity, automation and AI) not only to disrupt old trends in the technology sector, which is also riddled by growing environmental concerns, but to transform care delivery and increase access to safe and affordable health care. However, the major challenges were how to satisfy the changing needs of individuals and households, and the emergence of shared mobility as both factors continually alter long-standing demand patterns on technology adoption. Technology-based challenges in the era of COVID-19 (such as the high cost of R&D, decline in sales, low profit margins and high tariffs) are therefore affecting the overall ‘ease of business rating’ and economic performance of EU Member States. Thus, global leaders should understand that evolving technologies provide opportunities to optimize internal efficiency and disruptive innovation is a great asset in business management. Then how to add vibrancy to the economy and transform it into investors’ haven becomes a determinant factor for achieving competitiveness. As a matter of urgency, the EU can leverage collaborative leadership efforts and technology diffusion to revitalize its pandemic-ravaged and dwindling economies[93].

Conclusion

The prospects of technological innovations in human civilization are without limits, and the world has seen how technology can help humans and industries to survive crisis periods[94]. For example, remote working has saved numerous jobs and sustained human connection via phone calls, video chats, social media etc. Doctors and other health workers can virtually and safely provide crucial and minor clinical services from their offices and homes through electronic monitoring devices. Teachers and personal trainers are also able to keep students and clients very active across national boundaries [95]. Whistleblowing activities also increased during the COVID-19 pandemic due to provisions for anonymous reporting via emails, telephones and social media platforms These examples show that information and hope in our technologically-enabled world spread faster than the virus no matter its fatality rates and high infectivity. The best health crisis management strategy is to adapt technology according to the changes and/or priority areas[96].

L-LEGAL FACTORS

“L” in the PESTEL framework stands for the legal factors (i.e. laws and regulations) that control business activities within any jurisdiction[97]. The legal aspect of business (e.g. antitrust laws, patent infringement, employment regulations, employee safety and health regulations, product regulations, competitive regulations etc) are relevant to this paper because the knowledge is critical for avoiding unnecessary legal costs in every business environment[98]. The legal and political elements are linked and interchangeably used because both factors for instance influence corporate social responsibility (CSR)[99] and good corporate governance[100].

On this premise, Coronavirus related legal issues and considerations have proved quite extensive for business leaders, legal practitioners and scholars, too. As governments take actions (such as restricted movement, business closure, court prosecutions, fines) to control COVID-19 pandemic and restore order, organizations face the challenge of COVID-19 fraud, CSR and ethical practice[101]. Employees also need to deal with setbacks arising from cumbersome and expensive whistleblowing procedure (as in the UK) as well as ineffective whistleblower protection laws[102] and lax enforcement mechanisms found in many EU Member Countries. These examples underscore the need for a global legal framework that enhances crisis management and strategic response during disaster periods[103]. Some of the identified legal concerns fall under disclosure, corporate governance, employment, contracts, financing etc[104].

The United States of America

The executive branches of federal and state governments in the United States are legally authorized to enact rules and regulations designed for implementing laws passed by Congress[105]. But the executive arm of government basically relies on government agencies to perform its functions that involves a typically lengthy process, public comment and congressional oversight[106]. In some cases, however, there are exceptions to the rule because the executive can override certain governmental regulatory processes to take lawful and immediate actions when necessary[107].

Although executive orders or emergency rule making has been applied to previous emergency situations in the US, the COVID-19 pandemic called for enactment of laws that transcend every jurisdiction in the country[108]. Therefore, the functional effects of executive orders are far-reaching and mostly contentious because it creates difficulties for oversight at both federal and state tiers of government.[109] Yet, executive orders passed during the COVID-19 pandemic such as the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) will shape current and future US generations as the country continues its recovery process from the political and socio-economic impact of COVID-19[110].

The United Kingdom

COVID-19 lawsuits rooted in public health, employee safety, and fraud concerns are common in the United Kingdom because many employees are facing “forced adjustment” to new work environments, new measures, and changing government guidelines[111]. A fast-paced change in employers’ administrative/business decisions also trigger mental, physical and emotional breakdown among employees. These challenges led to an intensive search for more effective ways to strengthen whistleblower laws, establish responsive internal/external reporting channels, and encourage workers to report unethical behaviours in corporate organizations[112]. Thus, UK employment litigation rate has been the world’s highest since the emergence of COVID-19[113].  

EU Member States

The disparity in whistleblower laws implemented in EU member states stifles whistleblowing activities and render legal framework for protecting whistleblowers largely ineffective in some countries. Using the Polish whistleblowing law as a reference point[114], a healthcare professional in the EU country was fired by the hospital director[115] for allegedly reporting missing masks and PPE on social media. In reaction to the news, Poland’s Ombudsman cited the constitutional rights and freedom of expression and instructed the Ministry of Health to rescind the decision on the dismissed employee. However, retaliations against doctors are not isolated; suppression of healthcare employees in EU Member States[116] has become a growing practice as nurses and medical staff are mandated to gain approval from management on matters pertaining to COVID-19 before speaking directly with journalists. In Hungary, health workers are subjected to harsh legal practices that discourage whistleblowing activities[117]. Evidence-based research shows that Hungarian employees and journalists (and their counterparts in other EU countries) are denied rights and freedom of expression including a prison term of five years for spreading “fake” news.

Conclusion

Whistleblowers in the coronavirus era have become essential watchdogs fighting against suppression and control of information. Historical trends in well-structured and free economies (e.g. the United States, Australia, Canada and United Kingdom) show there are ‘fearless’ whistleblowers risking their lives to disrupt activities of politicians, public administrators and corporate organizations who intentionally withhold information, fail to circulate news at the right time, or promote fake news. Potential whistleblowers are therefore gaining motivation from the exemplary lives of public interest defenders who are consistently and painstakingly pushing back against governmental censorship all over the world.

E-ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

The second “E” in the PESTEL analytical framework represents “environment.” In other words, the environmental/ecological factors in any business setting[118] emphasize the need for organizations and governments to collaborate on environmental issues that have direct impact on human lives[119]. For example, gas emissions from technological products and industries are identified as major causes of global warming and climate change. Governments therefore have an obligation to protect the world by implementing environmental laws, sensitizing individuals (consumers) on why they should support use of environmentally sustainable products, and punishing organizations for activities that deteriorate ecological systems further. Some of the identified environmental factors are: (a) water disposal laws (b) energy consumption regulation (c) increasing global support for eco-friendly products/services etc. The impact of environmental factors on business organizations reflects on the intensity of their CSR activities, eco-friendly R&D investments, as well as the level of commitment to ethical practice[120].

Global shutdown measures have reduced the spread of COVID-19 and give our planet a brief respite from the destructive results of economic development[121]. As at 17 March 2021, Worldometer records showed 121,662,973 coronavirus cases, 2,687,876 deaths and 98,075,112 recoveries. Out of these numbers, the US had the highest global death toll with 550,276. Despite the immeasurable distress and loss of lives, daily news updates about the disease is not positive for the environment as some cities across the world were tagged ‘Coronavirus hotspots’ and deserted. Lack of professional health workers/volunteers and the rising number of dead, contaminated bodies created further challenges for mortuaries and crematories[122]. In some locations, dead bodies were abandoned on the streets and in people’s homes thereby worsening the environmental impact of COVID-19[123]. Considering the devastation caused by COVID-19, the United Nations (UN) Environment chief says this pandemic is by no means a “silver lining” for our environment, adding that the highly infectious virus has wrecked families and shaken the foundations of human civilization[124].

The United States of America

Medical and industrial waste is on the rise in the US. Beyond that, the focus on plastic restrictions and pollution regulations has changed towards controlling and preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, most recycling companies closed business at the peak of the pandemic thereby creating a gap in the nationwide environmental change campaigns. The virus spread also disrupted US-led international climate change meetings focused on strengthening values and promoting intergovernmental cooperation on environmental safety and other concerns.

The United Kingdom

The UK declared lockdown on 23 March 2020 leading to widespread loss of jobs, especially among low-income earners who also live in crowded areas with high exposure to the virus[125]. Over 2 million jobs in the UK retail and wholesale sector performed by nearly 25% of the total workforce were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. Although demand for labour in grocery and online retail business increased by a small margin, the positive trend was overshadowed by the significant number of temporary store closures in non-food retail[126]. Basically, COVID-19 impact on the environment is best analysed with the significant drop in accommodation/hotel, travel and food services especially in areas with high infection rates[127].

EU Member States

The lockdown across Europe significantly reduced the number of private cars driven by owners[128], Due to the high risk of infection from using public transport mediums (e.g. flights and buses), most commuters stayed back home. Individuals and families also relied on the service industry for supplies of essential products[129] thereby lowering the previously high number of collisions, gas emissions, and direct contact with individuals or unknown points of infection. For example, motor-vehicle usage in Germany, Spain and Italy declined by more than 80 percent after the lockdown. Thus, the lockdown greatly improved the quality of air, and more importantly, increased bond among family members. But despite the positive results achieved with COVID-19 restrictions[130], the negative impact of a sedentary lifestyle on people’s health cannot be overemphasized. Many people died in their homes for various reasons such as: (a) emotional pains (caused by separation from loved ones) (b) financial burden (caused by unemployment, loss of jobs and reduced income) and (c) poor health condition arising from an inability to access drugs/medical services when needed.

OVERALL ANALYSIS OF FINDINGS


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