Report warns of Uighur forced labour in solar panel supply chain

Beijing’s Uighur labour programmes are ‘tantamount to forcible transfer of populations and enslavement’, report says.

A worker operates machinery to clean solar panels at a photovoltaic industrial park in China's Xinjiang region [File: Reuters]

A new report warns against the use of Uighur forced labour by China in the global supply chain of solar panel manufacturing.

The study by the United Kingdom’s Sheffield Hallam University said Chinese “labour transfers” in the northwest Xinjian region, where rights groups say the Muslim-minority Uighurs have been subjected to persecution and internment, is deployed in “an environment of unprecedented coercion, undergirded by the constant threat of re-education and internment”.

The report added 45 percent of the world’s polysilicon manufacturers – a primary material used in 95 percent of solar modules – are based in Xinjian where most Uighurs live.

The investigation “determined that many of the major Chinese producers of raw materials, solar-grade polysilicon, ingots and wafers integral to solar module manufacturing are operating facilities in the region that have employed forced labour transfers of the indigenous people of the region, and that many of these manufacturers have beneficial relationships with the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps”.

“These manufacturers’ adoption of compulsory labour has a significant impact on downstream producers of solar modules and for the governments, developers, and consumers who buy them,” the report said.

‘Risk of exposure’

The demand for solar panels has grown as countries increasingly commit to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers identified 90 Chinese and international companies whose supply chains are in some way connected to forced labour.

They called on solar panel manufacturers to assess their supply chains and to source material elsewhere, saying the examples outlined in the report “are meant to provide stakeholders with the evidence based upon which to judge risk of exposure to forced labour in the solar supply chain”.

International pressure has grown for Beijing to allow access to Xinjiang, with Germany, the UK and the US holding a virtual UN meeting on Thursday condemning the documented rights abuses. China has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated one million Uighurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities being arbitrarily detained in the region.

The US has said President Joe Biden will urge allies to increase pressure on Beijing over the alleged forced labour during his first leaders meeting in June.

Source: Al Jazeera