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18 May 2021, 13:29
Edgar Meza

Allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang implicate German solar companies' supply chains

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that the named German companies whose supply chains have been implicated in the "Uyghur Forced Labour and Global Solar Supply Chains report are not solar photovoltaic module manufacturers themselves but rather service suppliers and distributors of solar PV solutions. According to the report they have sourced solar panels from manufacturers who use polysilicon from Xinjiang.

Clean Energy Wire / Tagesspiegel Background

Europe’s solar industry is striving for a resurgence but forced labour allegations against a Chinese silicon manufacturer are complicating those efforts. A new report by the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University lists German companies as possible beneficiaries of alleged forced labor in the Xinjiang region in China. The report titled “In Broad Daylight: Uyghur Forced Labour and Global Solar Supply Chains” lists dozens of energy companies worldwide that manufacture or install solar technology that is said to contain silicon from Xinjiang. It claims that the Chinese government has placed millions of people from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in farm and factory jobs, including in the area’s polysilicon manufacturing sector, many against their will. Xinjiang provides 45 percent of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon supply. The raw material is used in about 95 percent of solar modules. The report includes German solar photovoltaic technology distributors and service suppliers BayWa  r.e.,  IBC Solar and MVV Energie as companies that market panels made with polysilicon from Xinjiang as well as polysilicon supplier Wacker Chemie.

The report shows a "new dimension", polysilicon specialist Johannes Bernreuter told Tagesspiegel Background. “The information means that the eight largest polysilicon manufacturers -- and thus almost all of the polysilicon production -- are affected. That would affect almost the entire solar industry.” The German Bundestag is expected to soon pass a supply chain act that could force German companies to cut supply ties to Xinjiang due to alleged human rights violations, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. In an interview last month with Chinese newspaper Global Times, Zhang Longgen, deputy chairman of Xinjiang Daqo, one of four major Chinese polysilicon manufacturers in Xinjian, rejected the claims of forced labor.

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