Does the Solar Industry Rely on Xinjiang Forced Labor?

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Does the Solar Industry Rely on Xinjiang Forced Labor?” – below is their description.

    The world’s solar power surge depends on polysilicon from factories in Xinjiang, the region at the center of China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. No one really knows what’s going on inside the facilities.

    In the wilderness of the Gobi Desert sit two factories that churn out vast quantities of polysilicon, the raw material in billions of solar panels all over the world. It’s a four-hour drive from Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi. The only structures that rise up among miles of rolling snow-covered fields are the chimneys of coal-fired power plants, belching white smoke.

    Almost no one outside China knows what goes on inside these factories, or two others elsewhere in Xinjiang that together produce nearly half the world’s polysilicon supply. State secrecy cloaks the raw material for a green boom that researchers at BloombergNEF project will include a nearly tenfold increase in solar capacity over the next three decades. Solar is set to grow by about a quarter this year after record installations in 2020 backed by almost $150 billion in investment. That means millions of homeowners buying solar panels everywhere face moral uncertainty: Embrace the green future, and you have no way of knowing if you’re purchasing products made by forced labor and dirty coal.

    Companies and governments are also growing uneasy about their reliance on a region rife with allegations of human-rights abuses. Three owners of Xinjiang’s polysilicon refineries have been linked to a state-run employment program that, according to some foreign governments and academics, may at times amount to forced labor. China denies such accusations and recently insisted that journalists and diplomats are free to go see for themselves.

    That’s why two Bloomberg reporters went to Xinjiang in March, after weeks of unsuccessful requests for factory tours. Such visits aren’t unusual elsewhere in China. But this time a security apparatus sprang into action. Upon our landing in Urumqi, two police officers boarded the plane, one with an automatic weapon slung across his chest and a photo identifying one of the reporters in hand. After questioning on the tarmac, we left the airport. For the next three days agents followed us everywhere, obstructing all attempts to speak to locals and deleting our photos.

    The veil over Xinjiang has made the search for answers about the links between China’s labor program and its solar industry a job for outside researchers—who, it turns out, have found potentially telling details just by combing through public records.

    The owner of one polysilicon factory, GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., said in a 2019 report that it had accepted 121 poor minority workers from the Uyghur heartland in southern Xinjiang. Photos posted by the local government in June 2017 show workers, lined up in blue uniforms, about to be sent by the labor program to companies including East Hope Group Co., an aluminum smelter that in recent years also started producing polysilicon in Xinjiang. The previously unreported document was found by Adrian Zenz, a German researcher based in Minnesota who’s become a chief source of data about the labor program in Xinjiang—and thus a focus of China’s wrath.

    The documents are troubling, because the solar power surge that’s one of the great hopes in the race against global warming depends on the crucial supply of Xinjiang-made polysilicon. Some of the Western nations leading the transition to cleaner energy have also accused the Chinese government of committing genocide in Xinjiang. In March, the U.S., U.K., European Union, and Canada put new sanctions on China over alleged human-rights abuses. The U.S. has already banned imports of cotton and tomatoes from the region. The substance needed for solar panels could be next.

    For more: https://bloom.bg/3teHPJr

    Bloomberg Quicktake: Now YouTube Channel

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