It Pays to Choke in China

Who says air pollution doesn’t pay?

Apparently, the American beverage behemoth Coca-Cola is treating its expat staff living and working in China to an “environmental hardship allowance” to help entice new and retain current members in country.

Chronic air pollution is making many cities in China the least favorite destinations in the world for foreign staff, so one remedy is hazard pay. And some seem to think it may even shame the Chinese government into doing something about it if more multinationals pick up the trend.


The Australian Financial Review is reporting that a Coca-Cola spokesperson confirmed that the hazard pay is believed to be 15 per cent on top of an employee’s base-salary.

Earlier this year, the multinational electronics giant Panasonic announced it would pay its foreign staff a premium to live and work in any of China’s smog filled cities—although how much was not disclosed.

So how many polluted air days does a city in China get per year? Well, that depends on who you ask.

The Chinese government has often been criticized for underestimating the number of polluted air days, and few people, local or foreign, would disagree with this criticism.

Back in April of this year, The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time “crunched some numbers” using historical data from a monitor installed in 2008 at the US Embassy in Beijing and found things to be quite dismal.

“Based on data collected for 2,028 days between April 2008 and March 2014, only 25 days were considered “good” by U.S. standards.”

The China Real Time team took hourly readings and calculated them into daily averages, matched those daily averages against a “widely used air-quality index and compared it to U.S. standards for air quality.”

Although the team does admit that the data is not exactly scientific since it was only sourced from one spot in the city. Nevertheless, it’s no secret that China’s air, Beijing’s especially, is infamously unhealthy year round.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012 alone 7 million people died (one in eight of total global deaths) from polluted air. According to the WHO, this confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

Dirty air is linked to cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

To my naïve childlike eyes, it seems pretty bizarre in this day and age that clean air and clean water are not considered a basic human right. Hopefully before the end of this 21st century we can twist some arms and somehow add it to the list… but I for one won’t be holding my breath waiting for that to happen.