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As many as 175 solar manufacturers and power companies, including Tesla and Duke Energy, pledged on Thursday to create supply chain traceability to ensure the products they use are not connected with forced labor in China’s western region of Xinjiang, or anywhere else in the world.
The commitment of the companies is part of an industry-wide effort led by U.S. trade group Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and comes as reports have intensified in recent months of the Chinese government’s human rights abuses against the Uighurs ethnic minority in the Xinjiang region. Those reports include forced labor in many factories in Xinjiang.
The United States put last year gloves, hair products, textiles, thread/yarn, and tomato products on its List of Goods Produced by Child Labor of Forced Labor (TVPRA List) as produced by forced labor by Muslim minorities in China.
Chinese officials deny there is forced labor in the Xinjiang region.
According to the SEIA, an estimated 50 percent of the global supply of polysilicon, which is a critical component of solar modules, is produced in the Xinjiang region. Since January 2018, the polysilicon industry in Xinjiang has quadrupled.
“Forced labor will not be tolerated in our industry. Given reports of labor abuses in Xinjiang and the inability to conduct independent audits there, solar companies should immediately move their supply chains out of the region,” said John Smirnow, vice president of market strategy for the SEIA.
“We’ve been calling on this for several months now and expect that most of the major suppliers should be out by June 2021, at the latest,” Smirnow added.
A shortage of polysilicon could raise solar module prices and potentially create bottlenecks in solar project timelines, according to analysts.
“Solar has the potential for enormous positive impact on the world, but that mission is void if products are made on the back of unethical labor practices,” said Suzanne Leta, Head of Policy and Strategy at SunPower.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com