Shocking New Report Exposes Solar Industry’s Reliance on Uyghur Forced Labour
May 14, 2021
95% of solar panels rely on polysilicon; 45% of the world’s polysilicon comes from Uyghur Region in China known for atrocious human rights violations
The four largest solar panel suppliers in the world all source from companies using forced labour
WORLDWIDE – Today, the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region released an explosive new academic report detailing the widespread use of Uyghur forced labour within the solar industry. Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice find that almost the entire global solar panel industry is implicated in the forced labour of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples.
As governments and multilateral organisations around the world look to pivot toward renewable energy in the interest of reducing the global carbon footprint, companies and regulators will need to confront the fact that the world’s polysilicon supply chain is heavily reliant on forced labour in China.
“Despite catering to conscientious consumers, our analysis finds that the solar industry has a serious human rights crisis to contend with in its supply chains,” said Nyrola Elimä, a Uyghur supply chain analyst working in collaboration with the Helena Kennedy Centre’s Forced Labour Lab. “Creating a better future for our planet through solar energy holds little merit if companies are complicit in human rights abuses while doing it. The industry must step up and hold Chinese suppliers to a higher standard.”
The report investigated the entire solar module supply chain from quartz to panels to better understand the extent to which forced labour in the Uyghur Region affects international value chains. This included investigating over 30 Chinese manufacturers whose products feed into the solar energy supply chain to determine any potential participation each may have in the compulsory labour programmes instituted by the Chinese government in the Uyghur Region.
Key findings from the report:
- 95% of solar panels rely on one primary material – solar-grade polysilicon.
- The Uyghur Region accounts for approximately 45% of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon supply.
- There are 90 Chinese and international companies whose supply chains are affected by Uyghur forced labour.
- The Uyghur Region’s largest raw materials supplier to the solar industry is heavily implicated in the forced labour of Uyghurs.
- All four of the Uyghur Region’s polysilicon manufacturers are implicated in Uyghur forced labour either through direct participation in forced labour schemes, and/or through their raw material sourcing.
- The four largest solar panel suppliers in the world – JinkoSolar, JASolar, TrinaSolar and LONGi – all source from at least one of these polysilicon manufacturers.
“This research illuminates just how deep this humanitarian crisis goes,” said Laura T. Murphy, Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University. “While global demand for renewable energy soars, the industry must scrutinize their supply chains to ensure that they are not contributing to this crisis. Our report shows that there is significant work the solar industry must do in order to untangle itself from the oppression of the Uyghur people.”
Forced labour in the Region has been well-documented, particularly its pervasive influence on the apparel industry. With major corporations such as Amazon, Nike, Uniqlo, Walmart and Zara Inditex, and more failing to clean up their supply chains, the solar industry’s complicity in human rights abuses mirrors systemic challenges found across sectors. Though the Chinese government has mounted a surveillance campaign to silence the Uyghur people and block information to the outside, this report uses satellite mapping, first-person testimony, and corporate disclosures to reveal the sinister truth about the solar industry.
“Without exception, corporations across industries should not be doing business in the Uyghur region, or allowing goods from the area to infiltrate their supply chains,” said Nury Turkel, Board Chair of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, which is a member of the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region. “At this point the public is well aware of the atrocities happening to the Uyghur people, and there is no way for these companies to do accurate due diligence in the Uyghur Region, so we must assume that all materials coming out of the region are tainted with forced labour. This report reveals important new evidence that this problem extends far beyond the apparel industry, and is a wake-up call to consumers and investors interested in solar energy.”
The report concludes that in the global quest to mitigate climate change, companies must consider more than the benefits of a finished product in assessing whether its energy is truly “clean.” Transformations of our energy sources must not come at the expense of historically marginalized peoples. The shift toward renewables provides an opportunity to uplift and strengthen communities needed to bring about sustainability. As policymakers, corporations and consumers make strides toward a brighter future, they must ensure that progress is not made on the back of a genocide.
About the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region
The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region is a coalition of civil society organisations and trade unions united to end state-sponsored forced labour and other egregious human rights abuses against people from the Uyghur Region in China, known to local people as East Turkistan.
The coalition is calling on leading brands and retailers to ensure that they are not supporting or benefiting from the pervasive and extensive forced labour of the Uyghur population and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples, perpetrated by the Chinese government.
The coalition urges national governments to strengthen and enforce existing laws prohibiting trade in goods produced using forced labour, and to adopt and implement binding laws requiring human rights due diligence in supply chains. The coalition is further committed to working with multilateral organisations like the ILO and OECD to use their mechanisms to end forced labour in the Uyghur Region as well as forced labour and human trafficking of people from these communities.