More consumers in the UK and Europe are turning to British solar panel providers because of concerns over slave labour used by some Chinese manufacturers.
The global production of solar panels uses forced labour from China’s Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province, according to a 2021 report from Sheffield Hallam University.
Solar panels are in huge demand because of climate change and energy price fluctuations and Xinjiang produces about 45% of the world’s supply of polysilicon, the key component of solar power panels.
Andrew Moore, president of UKSOL, a British solar panel wholesaler that manufactures in Spain, says the publication of the Sheffield Hallam report helped raise awareness of the issue.
He said: “We’re increasing the number of orders because of this rejection of Chinese brands used by wholesalers in the UK.
“The consumer is asking (about forced labour) and rightly so. There’s been an uptick from Europe, I get emails every day from consumers who don’t want Chinese panels.”
Andrew Moore is president of UKSOL, a British solar panel wholesaler that manufactures in Spain
Laura T. Murphy, Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at Sheffield Hallam’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice and an author of the report, says there has been a rapid increase in public and government awareness of the use of forced labour in the Uyghur Region.
She said: “Governments are beginning to create legislation that would address this problem, and consumers are demanding that they not be sold products made with forced labour.
“It is difficult to know precisely what is happening in Xinjiang because we are not allowed to investigate in person, but we have seen more and more companies claim that they are not participating in the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) coercive labour programmes.
“Some companies have declared that they are sending the forced labourers back home. While the forced labourers may still be sent elsewhere, this change in corporate behaviour is clearly a direct result of international pressure.
“If more companies refuse to participate, that will make it more and more difficult for the government to use these tactics to force Uyghurs into work.”
However, Prof. Murphy says it’s possible that even more of the forced labour-tainted products are being sold in the EU and UK now the US has banned the import of all goods made in whole or in part in Xinjiang.
Mr Moore says Chinese products dominate the market because prices are low.
“Wholesalers in the UK won’t promote slightly higher prices panels because the industry is dominated by price, and price is dominated by China,” he said.
“They are pushing Chinese-made because they don’t want to lose deals.”
Xinjiang produces about 45% of the world’s supply of polysilicon, the key component of solar power panels
(Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
However, he says the Chinese market is not dominated by forced labour producers and lower prices are also made possible by economies of scale and other economic factors in China.
Prof. Murphy says some solar panel companies use Chinese products but hide it in an attempt to greenwash their origin.
“There are many ways companies try to hide forced labour in their supply chains,” she said.
“Consumers and governments should demand full supply chain …….