Solar farms commissioned by the Coal Authority, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), United Utilities and renewable energy providers have been found to use panels made by Chinese firms, who have been accused of exploiting forced labour camps in Xinjiang province, according to a new Guardian investigation.
The newspaper used confidential industry data to discover that up to 40% of the UK’s solar farms had been built using the panels, produced by large Chinese companies such as Jinko Solar, JA Solar and Trina Solar.
A recent report on the forced labour of more than one million Muslim Uyghur men and women named these firms as exploiting the situation, in what MPs voted to describe as genocide last Thursday with Asia minister, Nigel Adams, admitting there was credible evidence of widespread use of forced labour, internment camps, and the targeting of ethnic groups.
China is the world leader in polysilicon production. With factories or major suppliers in Xinjiang, the area produces almost a third of the polysilicon used to manufacture the solar panels used across the world, according to a report from US consultancy Horizon Advisory.
The repression of the Uyghurs within China led to systematic detention of the community in 2016, followed by reports of forced labour.
The Guardian found that panels from the Chinese companies were used by water companies United Utilities and Scottish Water, solar developers including Bluefield Solar, Foresight Solar, and Solarcentury, as well as thousands of panels made by Trina Solar being used by the MoD and a third of the panels used by the Coal Authority supplied by JA Solar.
A government spokesperson told The Guardian that: “We are thoroughly investigating recent allegations of forced labour in solar panel supply chains. In January we announced a comprehensive package of measures to help ensure no UK organisations are complicit in the serious human rights violations being perpetrated against the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”
However, Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, told ENDS that further measures are required. She said: “Our bottom line is that companies that can't ensure their supply chains are free of forced labor, shouldn't be sourcing from the region directly or indirectly until they can credibly fulfill their human rights responsibilities.
“It would be good to see governments take these concerns forward, not just with a call for a resolution for the Human Rights Council to push for investigation, but to make sure that governments are not themselves sourcing the products through procurement.
“This is a perfect example of why the measures imposed by the UK government to stop British businesses being complicit in, or profiting from, forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region are not strong enough. The UK government should introduce legislation that prohibits goods from entering the UK that are produced wholly or in part by forced labor and requires UK companies to undertake due diligence—this is something that companies themselves have asked the government to do.”
As we strive towards more effective green policy and reaching the target of net zero in the UK Caterina Brandmayr, head of climate policy at Green Alliance urges that we must also look at the global picture. She said: "The transition to a net zero economy requires action at home to promote low carbon technologies and solutions, but also along global supply chains to ensure UK businesses and consumers do not contribute to environmental degradation and human rights abuses abroad. The government must work with industry to ensure supply chains across all sectors meet the highest environmental and human rights standards."