China’s solar industry has condemned the adoption of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, calling it slander designed to help American companies compete in the booming sector. The China Photovoltaic Industry Association (CPIA) argued there is no evidence of any forced labor in the region, which is home to about 50% of the world’s polysilicon production.
In early 2021, leading European and U.S. PV trade associations and analysts began speaking out against accusations of human rights in China’s Xinjiang province. In particularly, accusations that some solar products and materials were being produced using slave labor. The region has been under scrutiny for its alleged human rights abuses and the forced labor of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.
Just days before Christmas, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. If enacted, the law would ban all imports from China's Xinjiang region, unless it can be proven that products were not connected to forced labor.
The CPIA said in a statement that it strongly opposes the new legislation, which, it believes disregards the truth, violates international law, and damages the overall interest of China. It argued solar businesses in the Xinjiang region strictly follow international standards, while employment in the region is voluntary and fairly compensated.
Due to difficulties in either gathering evidence of fair labor practices and verified certificates of origin for some PV modules and materials, some European and U.S. solar companies may opt to source materials, and polysilicon in particular, from non-Xinjiang regions in anticipation of import bans.
As discussed in pv magazine’s UP Initiative on solar workers rights earlier this year, solar manufacturers will need to respond to looming sanctions and rigorous supply-chain tracing requirements by increasing transparency, where feasible.
The potential impact of the sanctions on polysilicon from Xinjiang has been discussed at length this year. According to BloombergNEF, such measures might increase the profitability of companies like thin film producer First Solar, which does not use polysilicon, and of polysilicon producers with capacity outside Xinjiang – but the measures would be unlikely to have a much wider impact on solar industry growth.
“Solar manufacturers have over and over again proven themselves flexible and willing to adapt supply chains to trade legislation, for a small price,” Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at BloombergNEF, wrote in pv magazine earlier this year.
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