Olympic Shutdowns German Companies Weigh Legal Action against China

China wants hundreds of factories to cease production during the Olympic Games as a way to limit air pollution. But some of the companies affected are not amused. Now, five German companies are weighing legal action.


Clean air above Beijing and other Olympic sites is the target. But China's method of attaining that goal -- ordering thousands of factories in and around the metropolis to cease production from July 15 until the end of September -- is not universally well received. Now, a number of German companies operating near Beijing are considering legal and political steps to avoid having to close down.

According to a Thursday report in the business daily Handelsblatt, lawyers for five German firms operating in the region -- including the engineering giant GEA and the construction machinery specialists Wirtgen -- are looking into legal proceedings and have likewise contacted the German Embassy in Beijing. The Foreign Ministry in Berlin is also involved, according to the paper.

The German Chamber of Commerce in Beijing told SPIEGEL ONLINE that German companies have been exploring their options for weeks, but refused to say whether legal action had begun.

The five companies are among some 1,100 businesses, many of them located up to an hour away from the city center, which will have to put production on hold for the duration of the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games immediately following. In addition to Beijing closures, some 267 companies in the industrial city of Tangshan north of the city will have to cease operations and 40 factories in the nearby port city of Tianjin are closing, according to Reuters. Factories in three other provinces will also have to shut down.

Most of the factories affected are Chinese, but in addition to German companies, businesses from South Korea, Japan, Denmark and Sweden are also affected.

According to the Wall Street Journal, China's steel output will be cut by as much as 12 percent due to the measures and tens of thousands of workers will be forced to stay home for the duration of the Games -- many of them with only half pay.

The city has also been taking a number of other measures to combat heavy air pollution in the city, including relocating some heavy polluters out of the city and switching thousands of coal-fired boilers to natural gas. In addition, beginning on July 20, cars will only be able to take to the streets every other day, alternating between even and odd number plates. Beijing has shelled out some $20.34 billion (€12.95 billion) to combat pollution in the city.

Still, it is unclear if the measures are working. Throughout most of June, air quality hovered just below the level Chinese authorities consider unsafe -- and more than double as dirty as most large cities in the West.

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