Fresh evidence confirms solar industry still heavily reliant on the Uyghur Region

Governments’ failure to regulate supply chains turns markets into dumping grounds for forced labour made goods

August 1, 2023

The solar industry must fully exit the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Uyghur Region), after new research by Sheffield Hallam University led by Alan Crawford and Professor Laura Murphy finds evidence that solar industry giants remain reliant on the Uyghur Region for key inputs, said the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region.

Over-Exposed: Uyghur Region Exposure Assessment for Solar Industry Sourcing provides an in-depth analysis of 10 solar module manufacturers, including Jinko Solar, Canadian Solar, and LONGi Solar, documenting their alleged exposure to the Uyghur Region. The report shows that some solar module manufacturers have bifurcated their supply chains, developing alternative sources for polysilicon that companies claim to have no exposure to the Region, in part due to the U.S. Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which bars goods from the Uyghur Region due to the high risk of forced labour and the impossibility of credible due diligence. The report also shows that some of the same companies continue to source from the Uyghur Region for sales to other markets, which do not have forced labour import bans or other regulation to eliminate forced labour in supply chains. Notably, the global percentage of polysilicon sourced from the Uyghur Region has decreased by 10 percent since 2020, demonstrating it is possible for industry to exit the Region and develop alternative sourcing.

“The findings of the report reveal the bogus excuses from solar companies that have resisted breaking their ties with the Uyghur Region,” said Muetter Iliqud, Head of Communications for the Norwegian Uyghur Committee. “It is very possible to create alternative solar supply chains that do not rely on Uyghur forced labour, but globally the solar industry has been slow to end its complicity in the crimes committed against Uyghurs.”

The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region stated that solar companies must exit the Uyghur Region at every level of their supply chains immediately; this should be accompanied by governments globally enacting import control legislation banning imports of goods made with forced labour. Further, governments must introduce additional measures that will enable diversification of renewable energy technology supply chains. This should include the use of development finance and other financial incentives, in collaboration with the renewable sector, to develop alternative supplies of materials. There are no valid means for companies to verify that any workplace in the Uyghur Region is free of forced labour or to prevent the use of forced labour in these workplaces in line with human rights due diligence; therefore, business must operate on the assumption that all products produced in part or in whole in the Uyghur Region are at high risk of being tainted by forced labour.

“Governments that have not adopted bans on the import of forced labour-made goods run the risk of their countries becoming dumping grounds for solar panels made using Uyghur forced labour,” said Laura Murphy, Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University and one of the authors of the report.

Key findings of the report include:

  • The Uyghur Region now accounts for approximately 35% of the world’s polysilicon (down from 45% since 2020) and as much as 32% of global metallurgical grade silicon production.
  • The vast majority of solar modules produced globally continue to have exposure to the Uyghur Region. Production in China significantly increases exposure.
  • Some of the world’s largest module manufacturers appear to have bifurcated their supply chains to create a product line that they claim to be free of Uyghur Region inputs, though evidence of these claims varies by supplier. Most companies have suggested that these supply chains are dedicated to the U.S. market or designed with UFLPA compliance in mind. The portion of modules that is made by China-based manufacturers on these dedicated supply chains appears to range from 7-14% of the companies’ total production capacity globally.
  • Many companies that have created supply chains purportedly free of Uyghur Region inputs continue to source from suppliers or sub-suppliers that have exposure to the Uyghur Region for other product lines.

Read The New York Times’ exclusive reporting here:

Sustained advocacy by civil society and investors, supported by enforcement of the UFLPA, has had a meaningful impact as seen by the decreased percentage of polysilicon from the Region. However, much more action globally is needed to ensure the transition to renewable energy is not reliant on egregious human rights abuses. Recent UN reports have found that the government of China’s systematic abuses against Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples, including forced labour, may constitute crimes against humanity.

Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash