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A report published by Horizon Advisory in January put the spotlight on the possible existence of forced labor in the Chinese solar value chain. As industry facilitators, platform builders, and evangelical believers of solar PV, these reports have troubled us at Solarplaza. Such practices clearly do not align with our own values and the values of our solar industry as a whole.
Some of the allegations also implicate several collaborators and sponsors of our continuous efforts to connect and inform the global solar PV community. As such, we have been closely following the news, reports, and statements coming from the media, industry analysts, and implicated companies themselves to assess the situation and assert our own stance regarding the continuation of partnerships with certain parties. We want that stance to be based on solid facts and to cut through the static of suggestive reporting by certain media sources and slander of competitors.
Considering the fact that the problematic Xinjiang region accounts for 40-45% of the global polysilicon production (source: BNEF), the products of which get blended into ingots of untraceable mixed sources, the probability of Xinjiang polysilicon being sourced by many solar cell and panel manufacturers - both inside and outside of China - is more-than-highly probable. While it has been cited that cheap power rates have been the main driver for manufacturers to host their production plants in the Xianjing region, the recent insights into the widespread use of forced labor in that province have muddied the view on the true incentivization methods of the region. That’s a complex situation that needs to be researched and addressed.
Following the matter with grave interest, it has been stimulating to see that solar industry associations, such as Solar Power Europe and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), have stepped up to open the dialogue with their members. These efforts have already led to an encouraging pledge by 175 companies - including the major Tier 1 Chinese solar panel manufacturers - to help ensure that the supply chain will be free of forced labor and to develop an industry-led solar supply chain traceability protocol. Such a protocol would be an important step forwards towards clarifying the situation and will allow any manufacturer to clearly present their sourcing and take action if that sourcing actually traces back to forced labor.
As Solarplaza, we join our voice to all those demanding more transparency, traceability, and accountability in the solar value chain. Although we celebrate the explosive growth of solar PV applications, we believe it would defeat its potential for positive change if it would be achieved through methods and labor that do not align with the promise of a more sustainable and fair (energy) future. To create a truly sustainable and circular value chain, the fair sourcing of the raw materials for the production of solar panels is just as important as the proper decommissioning and recycling of the processed materials. Moreover, a more circular approach to the end-of-life phase of solar panels would even make the industry less dependent on dubious sourcing of new raw materials.
When we have properly answered those questions and met those challenges, we can truly claim solar energy to be the most sustainable power solution for all.