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22 Oct 2020

Michael Copley, S&P Global Market Intelligence

Human rights allegations from China's Xinjiang region could jeopardize US solar supply chain

BHRRC Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark Briefing

"Human rights allegations in Xinjiang could jeopardize solar supply chain", 21 October 2020

In 2019, when solar ranked as the world's top source of new power generating capacity, about one-third of the polysilicon the industry used to make solar panels came from Xinjiang...China as a whole accounts for about 80% of global capacity. With polysilicon-makers boosting production in Xinjiang...the region is poised to become "even more important" to the solar market in the coming years.

On the heels of a U.S. government report that described rampant abuse of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in September that would ban goods made "wholly or in part" in the region unless the producers were proven not to have used forced labor...

Beijing denies it is committing human rights abuses...

While human rights advocates have said they are not aware of public reports directly implicating polysilicon-makers in labor abuses, without independent audits, American solar companies could find they are unable to meet U.S. requirements.

S&P Global Market Intelligence reached out to more than two dozen solar consumers, investors, ratings agencies, project developers, polysilicon producers and equipment manufacturers. Only a handful responded to requests for comment; none provided detailed information about their efforts to examine potential exposure to labor abuses in Xinjiang or to safeguard their supply chains in the region...

...Customs and Border protection only needs information that "reasonably" indicates the use of forced labor. China watchers see such evidence throughout Xinjiang's economy, and the U.S. government has said that to comply with existing law, companies have few options but to cut Xinjiang out of their supply chains entirely.

Further complicating matters, the solar industry may not be able to address Washington's concerns simply by sourcing polysilicon from other parts of China. Uighurs have been forcibly transferred from Xinjiang to work elsewhere in the country... And within the solar industry, polysilicon buyers often mix material from multiple producers...making it difficult to trace the polysilicon in an individual solar panel back to its source...

U.S. companies are trying to take back some of the polysilicon market from China, but that alone will not solve the problem America's solar industry is facing...

Part of the following timelines

China: 83 major brands implicated in report on forced labour of ethnic minorities from Xinjiang assigned to factories across provinces; Includes company responses

China: 83 major brands implicated in report on forced labour of ethnic minorities from Xinjiang assigned to factories across provinces; Includes company responses

China: Mounting concerns over forced labour in Xinjiang