Solar projects commissioned by the Ministry of Defense, the government Coal Authority, United Utilities and some of the UK’s largest renewable energy developers are using panels made by Chinese solar companies accused of exploiting forced labor camps in the province of Xinjiang, according to an investigation by The Guardian.
Confidential industry data suggests that up to 40% of UK solar farms were built with panels made by China’s largest solar panel companies, including Jinko Solar, JA Solar and Trina Solar.
These companies have been named in a recent report on the internment of more than 1 million men and women from the Uighur Muslim community, in what British MPs voted Thursday to describe as genocide.
Companies with major factories or suppliers in Xinjiang produce about a third of the polysilicon material used to make the world’s solar panels, according to a detailed US report. consultancy Horizon Warning. China is the world leader in polysilicon production.
The report found that Chinese solar companies had links to indicators of forced labor in Xinjiang, where Uighurs are interned, through this polysilicon production.
The Chinese crackdown on Uighurs is believed to have escalated into systematic detention around 2016, with reports of forced labor emerging from the region in the years after.
An industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Guardian that the industry was struggling to distance itself from the use of forced labor, and that up to four in 10 of the existing solar farms in the UK were built using panels of the companies mentioned in the report.
While many were built before 2016, the Guardian has found a number of more recent deals that raise questions about how carefully UK companies and government agencies are investigating their supply chains.
Many manufacturers in China’s solar industry operate factories in Asian countries, but they can still use the raw polysilicon materials produced in Xinjiang, making it difficult to determine whether a particular production line has been exposed to alleged labor exploitation. China limits external observers and media access to Xinjiang.
The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) this month unveiled plans to install the first of 80 solar farms on the army estate in Leconfield, East Yorkshire, using thousands of panels manufactured by Trina Solar as part of a deal with the energy company. British Centrica.
The Defense Ministry did not answer questions about the checks it had carried out on companies’ supply chains, or whether panels with possible links to forced labor had been used elsewhere. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said: “We have robust procedures that allow us to routinely examine and monitor all aspects of our supply chain, which is kept under constant review.”
The UK Coal Authority, a government agency sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has included solar panels manufactured by JA Solar in one third of the solar farms it has built on its property from former mining sites since 2017. .
A government spokesperson said: “We are thoroughly investigating recent allegations of forced labor in solar panel supply chains. In January we announced a comprehensive package of measures to help ensure that no UK organization is complicit in the serious human rights violations taking place against Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. “
Some of the UK’s most prolific solar developers have used panels from companies linked to Xinjiang. The Guardian found that Chinese companies’ panels were used in projects built since 2016 by water company FTSE 100 United Utilities, Scottish Water and large solar developers, including Bluefield Solar, Foresight Solar and Solarcentury, owned by Norway’s Statkraft.
In January, Longi Solar, another panel maker, said it had shipped solar modules to an unnamed project near Rugby, Warwickshire.
There has been a sharp slowdown in solar development in the UK since 2017, when the government cut subsidies. However, executives said the companies were deeply embedded in the UK industry before and after 2016. Foresight Solar Fund, a developer of some of the UK’s largest sites, said in its 2020 annual report that Trina had supplied 13% of its panels, while JA Solar energy contributed 11%.
Chris Hewett, chief executive of Solar Energy UK, a lobby group, said: “This is an issue that members of the UK solar industry are treating with the utmost seriousness.” He said making global supply chains “as transparent and sustainable as possible” carries a “significant degree of complexity.”
Hewett said the UK solar industry was working with international trade bodies to develop a “traceability protocol” to safeguard the global supply chain from human rights abuses.
Xinjiang polysilicon interests are reportedly controlled by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an economic and paramilitary organization facing US sanctions following allegations that the group has facilitated widespread human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.
Horizon, the consultancy, said polysilicon companies “appear to be actively involved in the resettlement” of ethnic Uyghurs, where they “recruit resettled labor at Xinjiang production facilities” and contribute to Uighur “re-education” programs. The report claims that the Xinjiang dependency “implicates the entire solar energy supply chain in human rights atrocities.”
Many of the largest Chinese solar power manufacturers are closely linked. Daqo Group, one of the world’s largest polysilicon suppliers, with major operations in Xinjiang, supplies its high-purity silicon to Jinko Solar and Longi. Longi, in turn, supplies solar panel components to companies such as JA Solar and Trina Solar, according to Horizon.
Neither manufacturer responded to requests for comment from The Guardian on the use of forced labor in the Xinjiang region. Jinko has previously said that he condemns the use of forced labor and that the Horizon report does not “demonstrate forced labor at our facilities.”
Centrica, responsible for developing the defense ministry’s solar projects, said: “We condemn the use of forced labor in the strongest terms.”
A spokesperson said the company had worked “extensively” with Trina Solar over the past eight years. He had received anti-slavery statements from Trina throughout this time and had also made “quality control visits” to its main manufacturing plant in China, the spokesperson added.
United Utilities said all panel contracts included clauses regarding modern slavery and said it would investigate any evidence of mistreatment of workers in its supply chain. Scottish Water said it would examine the Horizon report and said it asked suppliers to confirm that they meet expected standards. Foresight and Bluefield noted Solar Energy UK’s position on modern slavery.
Solarcentury said that tracking the supply chain was a “complex process,” but added: “In the future, we will award new contracts where suppliers can demonstrate that the polysilicon for our projects comes from a factory that respects human rights and that we can audit.. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism