Is the U.K. solar industry powered by Uyghur forced labor?

Is the U.K. solar industry powered by Uyghur forced labor?

  • Published on
    March 31, 2024
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  • Category:
    Law & Policy, Supply Chain
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As the United Kingdom prepares to embark on an ambitious expansion of its solar energy infrastructure called the Solar Stewardship Initiative (SSI), advocates and senior officials are concerned about the U.K.’s heavy reliance on solar companies implicated in Uyghur forced labor.

“One of the most dirty and complicit industries”

The Telegraph reports that Alicia Kearns, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, has a stark warning about the potential consequences if the U.K. fails to enact tough new laws to address this looming crisis.

“Solar is one of the most dirty and complicit industries in Uyghur blood labour… The UK is at risk of becoming a dumping ground for slave labour-produced solar panels as both the US and EU have taken action. The fight against forced labour is a collective responsibility. We must work for a clean energy transition, but without becoming complicit in not just slavery, but genocide.”

The U.K. government’s impending Solar Roadmap outlines a transformative vision for the nation’s solar industry, aiming to increase solar capacity from 18 gigawatts to around 70 gigawatts by 2035. However, the vast majority of solar panels are expected to be sourced from China.

According to the Coalition to Stop Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region,

…several manufacturer members of the SSI are companies that have been alleged in reports to have a high risk of exposure to the Uyghur Region and forced labour. This could create a possible conflict of interest on the SSI’s ability to speak out publicly on the issue of Uyghur forced labour, to encourage diversification of the supply chains, and to call for an immediate exit from the Uyghur Region.

Last month, Freedom United and other members of the Coalition joined Ms. Kearns and over 40 Members of Parliament in calling on the U.K. government to take action to combat Uyghur forced labor in solar supply chains.

China’s dominance and labor exploitation

China currently dominates the global supply chain for solar panels, accounting for 98% of the European market. However, Ms. Kearns underscores the dark reality behind China’s competitive pricing: the widespread exploitation of Uyghur and Kazakh citizens in forced labor camps in the Uyghur Region.

Reports from the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University reveal the extent of China’s reliance on forced labor within its solar panel industry. Will the U.K. to follow the lead of the U.S. and E.U. in enacting legislation to ban products made under exploitative conditions? Failure to do so, Kearns argues, would be a moral failure.

Forced labor is not an option

Solar Energy U.K., the trade body representing the U.K.’s solar industry, pledges to establish supply chains within China that are free from forced labor. However, advocates question the feasibility and efficacy of involved measures, particularly regarding the auditing and monitoring of suppliers, given that the issue is state imposed forced labor.

Freedom United and our partners continue to call for solar companies to fully exit the Uyghur Region along their entire supply chains. There is no clean energy when forced labor is involved.

Join the campaign calling on world leaders to commit to a transition to renewable energy that ensures that forced labor in mineral extraction and manufacturing is eradicated.

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