The EU’s solar panel makers and importers have launched their first ever code of ethical conduct, positioning the industry towards cutting out PV panels made in China’s slave labour indoctrination camps.
Already trialled at eleven sites in China, Norway and Germany, the benchmark specifies for the first time rules for ethical corporate behaviour. The goal is to inject certainty into complex, often ethically muddied supply routes for components.
Britain’s Solar Energy UK is named as a collaborator in the project.
Up to 2.6 million ethnic minority Uyghur Muslims are estimated by civil society organisations to languish under incarceration in prison-like conditions in Xin Jiang province, in China’s north west. Factories built close to many of the camps produce goods for export, including solar panels and electrical components.
Despite recent attempts by the European Union to revive the trading block’s contribution, China dominates over 90% of world manufacturing of generation devices for solar electricity, particularly panels.
European industry leaders are treading carefully. Solar Power Europe will publish next year a separate Supply Chain Traceabiliity Standard.
Included in the European group’s SSI ESG stipulations already released are:
- Requiring any manufacturer to invite independent inspectors, known as assessment bodies (ABs), to audit at least two of its sites within a twelve month period.
Human and labour rights, environmental practices, corporate governance and ethical business practices are named as focuses of the AB’s scrutiny. A total of 14 sub-sections are stipulated.
Slavery in Chinese solar panel manufacture has long worried the industry. Last year researchers at Sheffield Hallam University’s Helena Kennedy Centre published ‘In Broad Daylight’.
Conducted over six months, the report found that 45% of the world’s high-grade polysilicon, the key material for solar cells, was controlled by manufacturers operating in the Uyghur Region. From other regions, China controlled a further 30% of polysilicon supply.
All polysilicon manufacturers in the Uyghur Region reported their participation in ‘labour transfer’ programmes, the Hallam study found. These are measures confirmed by Beijing in November 2020, to be state-sponsored measures to move workers – supposedly voluntarily – to localities requiring excess labour. NGOs and human rights organisations say Beijing’s default position is to makes such transfers compulsory.
The Sheffield Hallam report identified:
- 11 companies engaged in labour transfers
- 4 additional companies located within industrial parks that have accepted labour transfers
- 90 Chinese & international companies whose supply chains are affected