Forced labour warning on Chinese-origin solar products

A new report from the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University has warned that China may be using forced labour in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to produce solar panels sold all over the world.

Most solar modules rely on solar-grade polysilicon, and polysilicon manufacturers in the Uyghur Region account for some 45% of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon supply, say researchers Laura T. Murphy and Nyrola Elimä, from the university’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice.

They note that China has placed millions of indigenous Uyghur and Kazakh citizens from the Uyghur Region into what its government calls "surplus labour" and "labour transfer" programmes.

While Beijing has claimed that workers volunteer for these programmes, the researchers wrote that "significant evidence – largely drawn from government and corporate sources" shows that labour transfers are deployed in the Uyghur Region "within an environment of unprecedented coercion, undergirded by the constant threat of re-education and internment".

"Many indigenous workers are unable to refuse or walk away from these jobs, and thus the programmes are tantamount to forcible transfer of populations and enslavement," the report states, adding: "It is critical that we examine the particular goods that are being produced as a result of this forced labour regime."

Murphy and Elimä identified 11 companies supplying the solar industry engaged in forced labour transfers, four other companies located within industrial parks that have accepted labour transfers, and 90 Chinese and international companies whose supply chains are affected.

"We investigated the entire solar module supply chain from quartz to panel to better understand the extent to which forced labour in the Uyghur region affects international value chains," the report states. "The examples of engagement in these programs are meant to provide stakeholders with the evidence base upon which to judge risk of exposure to forced labour in the solar supply chain."

Access the report here.

Image: Demonstration for Uyghurs’ rights in Berlin, January 2020 (Leonhard Lenz/CC0 1.0 Universal/Public domain)

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