NPR, October 23, 2017
Rob Schmitz

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This is happening across the country: Entire industrial regions of China are being temporarily shut down, and the unusual sight of blue skies is reappearing as environmental inspectors go about their work. After decades of doing little about the pollution that has plagued much of the country, China's government may be finally getting serious about enforcing its environmental laws.

"So, basically, you're seeing these inspectors go into factories for surprise inspections," says Gary Huang, founder of 80/20 Sourcing, which connects foreign clients with China's supply chain. "They're instituting daily fines, and sometimes — in the real severe cases — criminal enforcement. People are getting put in jail."

In the past year, China's Ministry of Environment has sent inspectors to 10 provinces, where they've reprimanded, fined, or charged officials in more than 80,000 factories with criminal offenses. Entire swaths of Eastern China have halted production, prompting some companies to move entire supply chains to countries like India and Bangladesh to meet their orders.

"It's a huge event. It's a serious event. I think many of us here believe it will become the new normal," says Michael Crotty, president of MKT & Associates, a company that exports textiles from China. Crotty says in his nearly two decades in China, he's never seen a crackdown of this magnitude. "The consumers of China don't want red and blue rivers. They don't want to see gray skies every day."

environment global health health law policy international public health regulation