Chinese Solar Companies Tied to Use of Forced LaborJanuary 08, 2021
In a flat, arid expanse of China’s far west Xinjiang region, a solar technology company welcomed laborers from a rural area 650 miles away, preparing to put them to work at GCL-Poly, the world’s second-largest maker of polysilicon.
The workers, members of the region’s Uighur minority, attended a class in etiquette as they prepared for their new lives in the solar industry, which prides itself as a model of clean, responsible growth. GCL-Poly promoted the housing and training it offered its new recruits in photographs and statements to the local news media.
But researchers and human rights experts say those positive images may conceal a more troubling reality — the persecution of one of China’s most vulnerable ethnic groups. According to a report by the consultancy Horizon Advisory, Xinjiang’s rising solar energy technology sector is connected to a broad program of assigned labor in China, including methods that fit well-documented patterns of forced labor.
Major solar companies including GCL-Poly, East Hope Group, Daqo New Energy, Xinte Energy and Jinko Solar are named in the report as bearing signs of using some forced labor, according to Horizon Advisory, which specializes in Chinese-language research. Though many details remain unclear, those signs include accepting workers transferred with the help of the Chinese government from certain parts of Xinjiang, and having laborers undergo “military-style” training that may be aimed at instilling loyalty to China and the Communist Party.
Government announcements and news reports indicate that solar companies often take in assigned workers in batches of dozens or fewer, suggesting that the transfers are a small part of their overall work force. Still, the assertions from Horizon Advisory imply that much of the global solar supply chain may be tainted by an association with forced labor. Such charges could hurt its progressive image and risk product bans from Washington.