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30 Aug 2023

Malaysia: First Solar takes steps to remediate abuse as audit reveals conditions of forced labour for subcontracted migrant workers, incl. co. comments

BHRRC Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark Briefing

Quite simply, our industry’s work to power the energy transition and enable the fight against climate change does not serve as credits to offset its social and human rights obligations.
First Solar CEO Mark Widmar

In a reported "industry first", US solar panel manufacturer First Solar has disclosed results of an audit at its Malaysia factory which uncovered "unethical labor practices", including workers being charged recruitment fees, passport retention and wage theft. First Solar has said it had taken steps to remediate the abuse, including returning passports, wages and recruitment fees to the impacted workers. First Solar also found employment terms had not been communicated in native languages and that some workers had taken voluntary overtime resulting in them working over 60 hours per week; the company said it had taken action to ensure workers received one day off in seven and that working hours did not exceed this.

First Solar CEO said the decision to disclose the findings was in line with the company's commitments to transparency and raise awareness of labour exploitation risk in its and the industry's supply chain. The company is reportedly engaging with the four involved subcontractors to change their practices.

What First Solar has done is the critical due diligence that all companies need to do around the world to ensure they are identifying and remediating forced labor in their supply chains. It does happen, and companies have to be on the lookout for it.
Laura T. Murphy, professor of human rights and contemporary slavery at Sheffield Hallam University

At the end of August, the Malaysian Government announced an investigation into the four contractors. A spokesperson confirmed First Solar had made sure the migrant workers received their salaries and had their passports returned to them.