In the Spotlight: Air Pollution in Emerging Markets

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Three experts share their unique perspectives on air pollution and its impact on mobility in China and India. Rochelle Xu, Manager of Client Development and Relocation Services in BGRS’s Shanghai Office, is a China native. Bushra Siddiqui, Director, Client Services and leader of BGRS’s Client Services Team in Bangalore, India has nearly 10 years of operational management experience in global mobility. Cindy Reif, Director, Consulting Services, has over 10 years of experience consulting with companies about their mobility policies and programs.

Is air pollution something that companies are concerned about for their assignees going on assignment to China and India? And if so, how are they addressing it?

Rochelle Xu: For China, this has been an ongoing issue for the past several years, and many multinational companies have put practices in place to address this for their expatriates. Those practices do vary significantly though. Some companies offer air purifiers, however, sometimes the number is dependent on the family size. Some have a budget for purchasing air purifiers, while others ensure it is covered as part of the lease contract.

Bushra Siddiqui: I would say India is slightly different. First, the problem is more localized to Delhi and the northern cities. Also, the problem is comparatively newer in India, so reactions have varied. This year’s Diwali celebration, the Hindu Festival of Lights celebrated by millions of people and marked with fireworks every year, for example, saw a bigger reaction. The government stepped in and made new restrictions on driving. Schools and offices were closed, or employees were notified they should not come into the office unless necessary. Some companies reacted quickly installing air purifiers in the offices and handing out masks.  Most assignees on assignment in affected cities do have air purifiers installed in both their home and office.

How is the issue of air pollution playing out in terms of mobility policies?

Cindy Reif:  China and India remain top assignment destinations for companies, and so air quality issues are moving onto global mobility leaders’ radar. The policy considerations we have seen in Consulting Services are in line with what’s been said here already, and are being implemented at the local level. Any policy considerations or guidelines related to addressing air pollution are usually part of a country specific mobility policy and generally implemented by the local office staff. Other companies, just beginning to recognize the issues air pollution causes for their assignees, come to us to find out how they can help and learn more about what other companies are doing.

What is BGRS’s role in helping assignees moving to affected areas?

Rochelle: In Beijing, where it has been historically more problematic, some assignees are really tuned in. They look at online forecasts repeatedly and always wear masks. Others are cognizant that it’s an issue, but it doesn’t seem to be as much of a concern for them. In either case, our role is to help them and make sure they have access to the information they need. Our Destination Services Provider partners also have educational information and resource materials. If an employee’s company has a policy addressing air pollution in a certain way, we make sure they understand the policy and receive their benefits.

Bushra: Yes, and we are always available to answer additional questions. We can provide more resources and liaise back with our client contacts with any unique concerns we find for a particular assignee or family.

Do you have any recommendations for companies beginning to address air pollution concerns if they believe it could be an issue for their mobile assignees?

Cindy: I recommend gathering information. Knowing where their assignees are going and if this is a potential issue there is a good first step. For example, like Bushra said, not all cities in India are having issues now. Also, try to find out what other companies are doing and how they are addressing this in the location. We can help field these questions and can offer a window to what other companies may being doing or not. At the end of the day, a company should consider the need against their current policy. Their financial goals, business needs, and employee satisfaction goals will also help determine the level of assistance to provide their employees assigned to locations with poor air quality. Ongoing employee monitoring may also help yield higher acceptance and satisfaction rates in markets where pollution is increasingly an issue.

 

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