China’s Forced Labor Solar Power Industry
Many solar panels and components from China, the world’s largest supplier, are built with forced labor.
President Biden is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. One estimate shows that to reach this ambitious target, at least half of the electricity supply America should come from clean energies such as solar and wind. However, a dirty secret that President Biden and his Green allies don’t want to talk about is how ‘clean’ solar power is largely built on forced labor in Xinjiang, China, according to a new investigative report. from British University Sheffield Hallam.
China dominates the global solar energy supply chain and is the leading exporter of solar panels and critical components for solar panel manufacturing. For example, about 95% of solar modules depend on a single mineral – solar grade polysilicon, and China produces 80% of the world’s supply of polysilicon. Xinjiang alone is responsible for 45% of the world’s polysilicon supply. Such a high level of production requires a large supply of labor.
The Sheffield Hallam University report, titled “In Broad Day: Forced Uyghur Labor and Global Solar Supply Chains,” shows how China’s burgeoning solar industry has been tainted by forced labor by Uyghurs and other people. other minorities in Xinjiang.
For example, British researchers found an official Chinese government article published in 2020 which acknowledged that the government had placed around 2.6 million minorities on farms and factories in Xinjiang and across China through programs to ” surplus labor ”and state sponsored“ labor transfer ”. Many minorities participating in these programs ended up working for Xinjiang’s growing solar industry. However, the Chinese government claims that these workforce transfer programs comply with Chinese laws and regulations and that workers’ participation in these programs is voluntary.
But based on the Chinese government’s own guidelines, state media reports, and personal testimony from Uyghurs, the report paints an entirely different picture. Local authorities in Xinjiang have been instructed to place “interns” – Uyghurs and other minorities who were forced to place in internment camps – in various jobs after completing their tenure in the camps, regardless of their wishes. or desires. Some “interns” are said to be sent to work in factories near the camps. Researchers have identified at least 135 of these “re-education” camps co-located with or near factories. Other less fortunate “interns” have been transferred to factories across the country, far from home and those close to them.
Not all workers in the workforce transfer programs were former “interns”. Researchers learned that Chinese government agents or labor recruiters would go door-to-door to every Uyghur or Kazakh household, assigning each a numerical value and one of three categories – “checked” , “General” or “insured”. The points and categories would determine where each person would be placed to work. No one was exempt. Anyone who hesitates will have to endure daily visits or harassment until they give in. Uyghurs or Kazakhs who already had family members in internment camps were told that their participation in the work placement program would help speed up the release of their imprisoned family members. Basically the government made an offer that no one could refuse. Once in the programs, workers belonging to minorities were “constantly threatened with internment”, so they could not leave a job they did not want to begin with.
British researchers have concluded that these government-run labor transfer programs deny Uyghurs and minority workers “the human right to free choice of employment granted by Article 23 of the Declaration. rights of the United Nations ”and are therefore“ equivalent to a forced transfer of populations and enslavement. “
Researchers have identified at least eleven solar companies that have directly engaged in the forced transfer of minority labor to Xinjiang. In addition, around 90 supply chains of Chinese and international solar companies are affected by forced laborers from minorities. For example, the four polycrystalline silicon manufacturers in Xinjiang – Daqo, TBEA (and its subsidiary Xinte), Xinjiang GCL, and East Hope – have reported participating in Chinese government labor transfer programs or are supplied by commodity companies that did it. Daqo deserves special mention as it is a supplier to the world’s four largest solar module manufacturers – JinkoSolar, Trina Solar, LONGi Green Energy and JA Solar. The British report also found that China produced an additional 30% of the world’s supply of polysilicon outside of Xinjiang in 2020, a significant portion of which could also be tainted with forced labor from Xinjiang.
Besides the use of forced labor, Chinese suppliers to solar companies are known for their inefficient production process. For example, according to the report, the Hoshine Solar Company’s facility in Xinjiang pays workers to grind silicon by hand at a rate of $ 6.50 per ton. In addition, the process of transforming silicon into polysilicon requires a significant amount of electricity. In Xinjiang, electricity is mainly produced by coal, an industry that the Chinese government heavily subsidizes. The availability of cheap coal is one of the main reasons Xinjiang has become China’s most important solar center. Not surprisingly, China’s solar suppliers in Xinjiang have produced high carbon emissions due to their reliance on coal.
The Solar Energy Industries Association, a US-based trade group, is aware of the forced labor problem in Xinjiang. He organized more than 240 companies to sign a pledge, affirming their commitment to ensure that their products were not related to forced labor in Xinjiang. But many industry insiders said it was easier said than done, given China’s dominance in the global solar industry. Even though foreign solar companies only use Chinese suppliers outside of Xinjiang, there is no guarantee that forced labor is not involved. As the UK report revealed, a significant amount of forced labor has shifted from Xinjiang to factories across China and has become difficult to track. Therefore, policymakers, green energy advocates and foreign solar companies face a moral dilemma: will they push for more solar energy to tackle climate change, knowing that it is built? on the backs of forced labor and dirty coal?
China’s dominance in the solar supply chain is not as great as it sounds. Using rare earth metals as an example, Japan showed how a country can successfully break out of its dependence on Chinese suppliers. China is dominant in the global production of rare earths, a group of 17 elements widely used in magnets, smartphones, electric vehicles, missiles, and many other computer and defense products. In 2010, China attempted to militarize its rare earth monopoly against Japan. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry responded by launching an initiative to escape China’s strangulation on rare earths. The initiative consisted of three components: developing rare earth suppliers outside of China, investing in countries with rare earths but lacking the financial and technological capacity to extract and process them, and reduce the use of rare earths in finished products through technological innovations.
Japan’s strategy has been very successful. In 2017, Japan imported about a third of its rare earth minerals from countries in Asia other than China. Thanks to Japan’s efforts, China’s global rare earth market share has fallen from over 95% in 2010 to less than 70% in 2018, and it continues to decline.
Japan’s success shows that China’s dominance in any sector is not as great as it sounds. The United States can also break with China’s corrupt solar supply chains. It will take a joint effort and careful planning between the Biden administration and the U.S. solar industry to develop and invest in alternative supply chains outside of China, or even bring some back home. So our “clean” energy can be really clean.