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Solar Energy Based on Uyghur Slave Labor Isn't Clean

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Most solar panels come from China, and using them to fuel a clean energy transition risks reliance on Uyghur slave labor in Xinjiang.

Companies and governments pushing for solar energy are confronting a previously overlooked roadblock, according to a new report.

The industry’s solar energy supply chains are heavily reliant on Xinjiang, a Chinese region the US government and others say is the scene of genocide against the local ethnic Muslim Uyghur inhabitants, The Wall Street Journal said.

At issue is polysilicon, an essential ingredient to most solar panels, which comes from this region of northwestern China, where human-rights groups and US officials say China runs a sprawling network of internment camps that have held more than 1 million Uyghurs.

Experts in the renewable energy industry say they fear that Xinjiang, which makes about half of the world’s supply of polysilicon, as well as other essential materials, could have links to forced labor.

In recent months, global pressure has been mounting to curb trade with Xinjiang as both the US and the European Union are weighing legislation that could lead to import bans on products from the region, including polysilicon. In January, the US already banned imports on cotton and tomatoes from the area.

Many Western solar companies are already working to cut exposure to the region, fearing their industry will be in crosshairs next.

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