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Is Poor Air Quality Polluting The Success Of Your Relocating Employees?– Overcoming Key Mobility Challenges in China

by Echo Lei

Challenges in China Mobility

According to the SIRVA-sponsored WERC’s Talent Mobility in China Survey 2016, environmental issues, especially in air pollution, tops the list of concerns for many employees moving into China for long- and short-term assignments and permanent moves. 

Top China Mobility Challenges

Decades of rapid industrialization and lack of environmental oversight puts China’s air quality among the worst globally.  Beijing and Shanghai have the highest levels of air pollution in China on an ongoing basis (Beijing issued its first ever pollution red-alert in December, 2015), but it affects many other cities and regions as well, with pollution tending to increase in winter when more coal is burned. The Chinese government has declared a “war on pollution” and Reuters reported in February this year that the government is building ventilation corridors in Beijing and closing 2,500 small polluting firms in an effort to make headway against the problem.

However, according to a 2015 AIRINC survey, air pollution has had little impact on assignment volume to China1, though there is anecdotal evidence that more assignees are leaving China due to pollution. Some companies such as Coca-Cola2 pay a hardship allowance for China that is directly linked to environmental factors.  More commonly, many companies rely on a medical and travel security assistance provider and/or their internal medical department to provide up-to-date information and advice on how to protect business travelers and expatriates from air pollution’s harmful effects.   Some current recommendations include testing air quality in housing before signing a lease, limiting outdoor activity (especially for young children, the elderly and those with long-term health issues), using air conditioning and an air cleaner and wearing a facemask. 

Communicating accurate and timely information about the risks and how best to mitigate them help prepare families for what to expect, reassure them about how it can be managed and empowers them to make informed decisions. From a corporate liability standpoint, transparency and communication can also help head off potential legal issues later on, as an assignee that understands the risks will be better prepared to deal with situations when they arise. 

Next time, we will examine the second highest challenge – high housing cost when moving expatriates into China.

  1. Mobility Magazine, “The Numbers” (2014)
  2. BloombergView, “China: Coke Pays Employees to Breathe China’s Air” (2014)