In his first few months in office, President-elect Joe Biden will need to choose between working with Chinese companies on developing affordable solar energy solutions for the U.S. or ditching the possibly “dirty” solar for an expensive alternative back home. This follows reports that Chinese companies responsible for producing polysilicon and other solar panel components for the U.S. could be using slave labor.
Most of the solar energy products from China are manufactured in the Xinjiang region, which has become synonymous with detention centers and forced labor. Over the past four years, China has established a network of detention facilities in the region, most of which contain factories. These detention centers are used to hold Muslim minorities, who are believed to be forced to provide labor for solar factories.
Related: The afterlife of solar panels
Unfortunately, the U.S., like many other countries, relies on China for solar panel parts. These materials are imported from Xinjiang and other areas under heavy government surveillance, where external observers do not have access. China became the dominant supplier of polysilicon in the world, following the 2014 tariff war with the U.S. In retaliation to U.S.-imposed tariffs, China imposed tariffs on companies in the U.S., South Korea and the EU and ventured into producing polysilicon and other materials.
With that said, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the legal authority to stop the importation of parts if it finds proof of slave labor in the manufacturing. In July 2020, the agency stopped a shipment of human hair extensions, based on reports that the products were made using child labor. In December 2020, CBP also seized shipments of cotton and computer parts from the Xinjiang region that were also believed to have been made by prison labor.
“It’s quite possible solar companies could be scrutinized by CBP regarding Xinjiang-related forced labor risks in their supply chains even if there is no regional ban because this issue is getting more attention,” said Amy Lehr, director of the human rights program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and the lead author of a report on forced labor in Xinjiang.
At this time, the Solar Energies Industry Association is recommending that U.S. solar companies move their supply chains away from this region. John Smirnow, general counsel of the association, said, “We have no indication that solar is being directly implicated, but given reports, we want to ensure forced labor is never a part of the solar supply chain.”
Via Buzzfeed News
Image via Chuttersnap