Winners and losers as China tackles winter smog

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 3:20pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 10:51am


As a polluted haze of thick, winter smog settles over China’s north eastern provinces, local governments and employers are dealing with the problem in innovative ways.

In Shanghai, where PM2.5 air pollution averaged 382 micrograms per cubic metre on Friday, (14 times higher than the WHO’s recommended daily exposure level), the government ordered factories to cut production and banned cars from taking to the road.

In a move that was likely more positively received, the local branch of multinational manufacturer of food and cosmetics, Unilever, ordered some 2,000 employees to stay at home, the Shanghai-based Jiefang Daily reported.

Late on Friday, when the air quality index reached a record 482, a severe reading well above the 300 considered ‘hazardous’, all Unilever staff received an email ordering them to work from home on Monday, unless there was a compelling business need or emergency to bring them into the office.

“The staff was very happy to hear the announcement”, said Zeng Xiwen, Vice Chairman of Unilever China.

The company also cancelled a regional manager’s meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

Several other large companies have taken similar measures, but not all employees were so lucky. Some companies simply provided protective gear to employees, who took to Weibo to protest.

“A foreign company in Shanghai let their employees work from home due to the smog. We were not so lucky, all we got was a face mask!”, wrote one Weibo user.

Further north in Liaoning, the provincial government has begun issuing fines to cities that violate a new air quality regulation limiting levels of PM10 concentration, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, Xinhua reports.

Up to the end of October, the government had collected more than 54 million yuan (HK$69 million) in fines, which they promise will be used for environmental and air quality projects.

The province’s two worst offenders were the capital, Shenyang and Anshan, home to one of the largest steel producers in China. The cities were fined 34.6 million yuan and 7.8 million yuan respectively.