As many as 40% of the UK’s solar farms have been built using panels manufactured by firms linked to forced labour camps in Xinjiang.
That’s according to a new report from The Guardian, which named Jinko Solar, JA Solar and Trina Solar as firms benefiting from forced labour in the Chinese region.
Those firms are some of the biggest manufacturers of solar panels in the world, but recent research shows that they could be leveraging forced labour from the more than one million men and women from the Muslim Uyghur community that have been interned in camps in the Xinjiang region.
China denies that it is committing human rights atrocities, but UK MPs voted last week to describe the situation in Xinjiang as genocide.
How forced labour is helping build the UK’s solar farms
The UK has been aggressive in its rollout of solar farms across the country, but in order to roll out in a cost effective way, many developers have turned to Chinese manufacturers to source its panels. That includes the Ministry of Defence, the Coal Authority, United Utilities and many other renewable energy developers.
It’s not exactly surprising to source solar panels from China, after all Jinko Solar, JA Solar and Trina Solar are significant players in the market. However, where they source polysilicon is where the controversy lies.
According to a report from the Horizon Advisory, about a third of the polysilicon material used to make the world’s solar panels is produced in Xinjiang. This is where there could be instances of forced labour, with Uyghurs forced to help with the production of polysilicon.
That doesn’t mean that the Chinese solar manufacturers are directly utilising forced labour, but that they could be receiving products from their supply chain that has benefited from the internment of Uyghurs. Due to the diverse supply chain of these manufacturers, however, it’s difficult to ascertain which particular production line has been exposed to these materials.
How the solar industry has responded
Allegations of using materials produced through forced labour could massively impact China’s solar industry, although manufacturers have yet to comment on the latest bombshell. Jinko Solar has previously said that it condemns forced labour, but stopped short of saying whether it had benefited from it in regards to the production of polysilicon.
Upon hearing of the supposed links between the solar panel manufacturers and the forced labour camps, the UK Government committed to a thorough investigation to ensure that no UK organisation is complicit in supporting the forced labour of Uyghurs or other minorities in the region.
Meanwhile, it’s likely that many of the projects currently in the planning phases will have to look closely at their suppliers. That includes a Ministry of Defence solar farm which is set to use thousands of panels by Trina Solar.