Solar Panels & Human Rights
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Solar panel production and supply

Solar power is seen as the key to rapidly reducing emissions across the global power sector.

Recent estimates suggest that restricting global heating to a 1.5 degree increase requires a tripling of renewable capacity by 2030, and solar is expected to play the largest role in this.

China dominates the market for solar panels, with at least 80% of the global market share in manufacturing capacity. In the first half of 2023 exports grew by 34%.

More information about China's domination of global solar PV supply chains can be found here.

However, a significant proportion of the manufacturing capacity for solar panels in China is dominated by the use of slave and forced labour, and - although widely recognised - there is little action by most of the world to deal with it.

Slave/forced labour in Xinjiang

China's solar indutry is rooted in Xinjiang province, and a significant proportion of the labour force comprises ethnic Uyghurs, housed in detention centres and prisons. Many live and work in conditions that are tantamount to slavery. You can find out more here.

For a more detailed explanation to the background of the situation of ethnic Uyghurs see this paper.

The use of slave labour in the Xinjiang region of China is highlighted in a UN report from July 2022.

This report from Sheffield Hallam University makes stark reading.

Solar panels

Bans on imports

The US does not permit the import of goods from Xinjiang, but no such ban exists in the EU (yet) or in most other locales.

According to this report from Reuters more than 1,000 shipments of solar energy components worth hundreds of millions of dollars have piled up at U.S. ports since June 2022 under the law banning imports from China's Xinjiang region over concerns about slave labour.

This report by the Breakthrough Institute provides more detail.

Solar panels

What should be done?

The US import ban is clearly a significant step, but other countries have not followed suit yet, and given China's dominance of the market a ban would greatly diminish our ability of produce the quantity of solar panels that are needed to achieve current objectives.

This article sets out the main issues, and ends with the 3 paragraphs shown here.

The same article also points out that climate crisis sceptics use the Uyghur situation as a rather helpful tool in their argument against the transition to renewable energy sources.