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US solar industry has to deal with the fact its supply chains are reliant on Xinjiang, where genocide and slave labor are rampant


Prominent advocates of solar power as the renewable energy that can replace fossil fuels have to deal with the fact that the industry’s supply chains are heavily reliant on China’s Xinjiang region.

According to multiple governments and human rights organizations, the Chinese Communist Party is currently conducting genocide in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang. This province is home to many ethnic and religious minorities.

The CCP’s ethnic cleansing campaign is focused on wiping out Xinjiang’s Muslim Uyghur population. U.S. officials have accused the CCP of running a sprawling network of concentration camps that is believed to have held more than one million Uyghurs.

This is a problem for solar energy advocates since about half of the world’s supply of polysilicon comes from Xinjiang. Polysilicon is an essential ingredient in the creation of solar panels. Many within the renewable energy industry are already stating their fears that the essential materials coming in from Xinjiang may have links to forced labor. (Related: Chinese-made solar panels to continue market dominance as demand for green energy increases under the Biden administration.)

U.S. solar companies continue to work with Xinjiang suppliers

Even as some American companies try to hold the CCP accountable for its actions in Xinjiang, they aren’t stopping trade with the region.

Nexcamp, a Boston-based solar energy company, purchases solar panels and other solar energy components from China for its clients in America. Zaid Ashai, the company’s chief executive, says it is virtually impossible to send independent auditors to inspect operations in Xinjiang.

Ashai said that his company tried to investigate as much of his company’s supply chain as it could to ensure that everything complied with ethical labor standards, but it wasn’t able to discover much.

Without a viable alternative supplier, Ashai said Nexamp would continue trading with Xinjiang suppliers. But the company said it hoped the solar industry could create a thorough tracking system to ensure nothing is made in Xinjiang.

The CCP has denied all accusations of genocide in Xinjiang. It has also stated that there is no forced labor involved in the solar industry. Ashai said it is difficult to trust Chinese corporations in Xinjiang, even if they say they are free of forced labor.

“Attestations without verification mean nothing at this point,” said Ashai. “And given the troubling news and human rights reports that have leaked from the province, as concerned global citizens, we have to take that seriously.”

Senators demand solar lobby detail industry’s connections to Xinjiang

Global pressure to halt trade with Xinjiang has been building for some time now. Both the U.S. and the European Union are considering passing legislation that could ban products from the region, especially those that have ties to forced labor. The U.S. already has legislation banning cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang, and it has begun tracking down the region’s ties to the American solar industry.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon have demanded that the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) detail the measures it or member companies have taken to ensure that none of the products they’ve sourced from Xinjiang, such as polysilicon, were made using forced labor.

SEIA is the country’s largest solar energy lobbying group. The senators asked the lobbying group for information regarding “the extent to which the U.S. solar supply chain is currently dependent” on polysilicon, solar ingots and wafers and other solar energy products made in Xinjiang.

In the letter, the senators said that the solar industry’s reliance on China for its supply chain “fails to protect consumers from inadvertently contributing to human rights abuses abroad.”

Dan Whitten, SEIA Vice President of Public Affairs, said the lobbying group shared Rubio and Merkley’s concerns.

“We have called on American solar companies to completely leave the Xinjiang region by June and are working hard to develop a supply chain traceability protocol that can be used as a compliance tool to ensure the products they use are free of forced labor,” said Whitten.

Rubio and Merkley have been spearheading the campaign in Congress to make forced labor practices in Xinjiang as unprofitable as possible. Earlier this year, the two senators reintroduced legislation banning all products from Xinjiang without specific approvals. This legislation had strong bipartisan support, but it was targeted by lobbying firms with supply-chain links to Xinjiang.

Learn more about the solar industry’s links to Xinjiang and the widespread human rights abuses occurring in that region by reading the latest articles at SolarPanels.news.

Sources include:

WSJ.com

Reuters.com

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