New report: These solar modules are tainted by forced labor

Workers crush silicon metal in the Jingang Circular Economy Industrial Park in Yili prefecture, Xinjiang. China
Forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region permeates the solar supply chain more vastly than many may think – Image: Kokodala News

The top Chinese solar module producers have established separate supply chains fed with non-Chinese polysilicon to comply with the U.S. import ban on products from Xinjiang. This strategy, however, is gappy, a new report from the Sheffield Hallam University reveals.

It is very likely (and documented to a great extent) that all polysilicon manufacturers in China source more or less silicon metal from Xinjiang, the country’s largest production region for that feedstock and also notorious for labor transfer programs that force indigenous Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities into remote jobs, with the implicit threat of being detained in internment camps if they don’t accept the job assignment.

To comply with the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the USA, which prohibits the import of any product containing materials from Xinjiang, the top Chinese solar module producers have created separate production lines destined for module export to the U.S.; these are fed with non-Chinese polysilicon from Wacker, Hemlock Semiconductor and OCI – at least the module producers claim that.

Unbalanced seperate supply chains are open to inputs from Xinjiang

The new report from the Sheffield Hallam University makes it clear that there is a significant gap between this claim and reality. Most of the Chinese producers’ separate production facilities in Southeast Asia have less wafer and/or cell than module production capacity; that means they have to import additional wafers and cells from China to reach their full module production capacity in Southeast Asia. It is doubtful that these additional wafers and cells from China have completely been made of non-Chinese polysilicon.

Just a few weeks ago, in mid-July, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency detained solar modules from Chinese top producer Longi made of polysilicon from Tongwei in China. Tongwei has been named by Xinjiang-based silicon metal manufacturer Hoshine Silicon as one of its customers.

Therefore, you should take a deep dive into the new and detailed report by lead authors Alan Crawford, an independent chemical engineering consultant and expert in qualifying silicon metal suppliers, and Laura Murphy, Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University. The report is available for download on the website of the Helena Kennedy Centre.

Crawford, A. and Murphy, L. T. (2023), “Over-Exposed: Uyghur Region Exposure Assessment for Solar Industry Sourcing,” Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Hallam University Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice

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