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2 Aug 2021

Laura T. Murphy and Nyrola Elimä, Sheffield Hallam University Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice

In Broad Daylight: Uyghur forced labour and global solar supply chains

Solar Farm

"In Broad Daylight: Uyghur forced labour and global solar supply chains", May 2021

...This report seeks to increase the knowledge base upon which the solar industry determines its exposures to alleged forced labour in the Uyghur Region. We investigated the entire solar module supply chain from quartz to panel to better understand the extent to which alleged forced labour in the Uyghur region affects international value chains. The examples of engagement in these programs are meant to provide stakeholders with the evidence base upon which to judge risk of exposure to possible forced labour in the solar supply chain.

While Xinjiang accounts for 45% of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon supply, 35% more of it comes from other regions of China, and 20% from outside of China. Experts agree that this is enough to supply the United States and Europe’s needs for solar modules. However, this does not account for the companies in the interior of China and internationally whose supply chains are likely affected by manufacturing in the Uyghur Region.

The extent to which Xinjiang metallurgical-grade silicon and polysilicon pervades the market means that module manufacturers that want to avoid producing goods that are potentially tainted by alleged forced labour in Xinjiang will have to scrutinise their supply chains thoroughly, all the way to the raw quartz materials, to determine if they are produced with forced labour or blended with affected materials. They will have to demand that the polysilicon that goes into the manufacture of their wafers is not sourced from companies engaged in forced labour transfers. This effectively leaves only a few Chinese alternatives with no confirmed exposure to forced labour in the Uyghur Region.

The solar supply chain is relatively easy to map, and identifying possible forced labour exposure in Xinjiang is less of a challenge than in industries such as textiles or agriculture. And doing so is critical, as it would not only address the alleged forced labour issue in Xinjiang but would also substantially reduce the carbon emissions of the solar industry. From a human rights and climate perspective, the alternative of basing our green energy future on coal’s high carbon emissions and on the alleged forced labour of oppressed communities is a higher and longer-term price to pay...