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Coping with Pollution in Beijing
Beijing, China’s capital city has been plagued with serious air pollution. Of particular concern is a pollutant called fi ne particulate matter (PM), composed of a mix of solid and liquid particles, includingsulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, carbon, mineral dust, and water. When people inhale PM that is 2.5 micrometers or smaller (called PM 2.5), it interferes with gas exchange in the lungs and contributes to development of lung cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The standard of the World Health Organization is that PM 2.5 should not average more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24-hour period. But in a recent winter, PM 2.5 was measured at 755—a level at which people can see, feel, and taste the grit in the air. Along with increasing the risk of disease and premature death, that kind of pollution causes daily problems such as itchy throat and chronic cough.
Pollution that bad raises HRM challenges for organizations that operate in Beijing. A fundamental problem is that talented people in other countries do not want to relocate to the area. At BMW, several candidates for midlevel management positions withdrew their applications because of concerns about their families living in unhealthy conditions. A doctor at Beijing Family Hospital said he had heard from many expatriates that they intend not to renew their employment contracts to work in Beijing.
Some actions employers have taken involve making workers safer and more comfortable. Employers have purchased air purifiers and face masks for employees and have brought in experts to teach employees and their families how to stay healthy. They also have increased hardship allowances for employees working in the area.
Employers also can point to community efforts to make living in Beijing healthier. For example, international schools that teach the children of expatriates have taken actions to protect students. Dulwich College Beijing installed a huge dome over an outside play area, so students can leave the building to play basketball and other games when the PM 2.5 index is 250 or more.
The problem in Beijing also has become an opportunity for employers located away from the worst pollution. One Chinese company launched a “Blue Sky Recruitment” campaign in Beijing to lure young information technology engineers to the south of the country, where the air is better. The company’s ads, posted in elevators, asked, “Do you dare to pursue a life with blue sky and white clouds?”
1. What would it take for you to accept an assignment in a location such as Beijing with extremely bad air pollution?
2. What should a socially responsible employer do to protect its employees in conditions such as these?