European Solar Body Cites ‘Forced Labour’ For Protection From Chinese Imports

European Solar Body Cites ‘Forced Labour’ For Protection From Chinese Imports

The European Solar Manufacturing Council (ESMC), a body representing mostly European solar manufacturers, has written an open letter to the EU calling for regulation of ‘forced labour’ in the solar supply chain. The move is not the first, as the bidy has been repeatedly citing the threat to European manufacturers from what it calls unsustainably low solar prices that are partly due to forced labour being employed in the supply chain in China. In the letter, they say ” The nexus between forced labour and the unsustainably low prices of Chinese-made solar PV modules and inverters poses a serious threat. Without EU regulations scrutinizing goods throughout the value chain for forced labour, European PV manufacturers, adhering to higher social and environmental standards, are jeopardized”.

Signed by 37 European solar PV manufacturers, the ESMC letter zeroes in on polysilicon production in Xinjiang, China as the hub of the forced labour. Readers will recall that the US already has restrictions on any sourcing linked to the region. Key German manufacturer Meyer Burger, UK based Oxford PV, Maxeon, and US based First Solar are among the signatories.

The ESMC letter calls on the EU to implement the following measures:

  1. Shift the burden of proof to companies coming from high-risk areas, whereby economic operators in areas exposed to forced labour are required to prove that their supply chains are ‘clean’ before being granted access to the European market.
  2. Grant the European Commission a similar mandate as “competent authorities”, allowing it to initiate investigations about suspected forced labour and ultimately prohibit products made with forced labour.
  3. Accelerate the implementation of regulations beyond the 18 months or 24 months proposed by the European Parliament and Commission respectively.
  4. Avoid recognising “unproven industry schemes” which come from stakeholders in the solar industry and “do not engage with workers”.
  5. Understand that disengagement is the only option in the case of state-sponsored forced labour, like that which is alleged in China. Companies in this system “lack the ability to conduct human rights due diligence”.

The ESMC letter cites findings from the Global Slavery Index which places solar panels as the fourth highest at-risk product for forced labour imported by G20 nations and a study from Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, which found that the supply chains for many of the largest PV producers are insufficiently transparent to concretely rule out human rights abuse.

The ESMC has been pushing since September last year for restrictions, when it first declared import prices to be unviable for European manufacturers to match.

ESMC MEmber List

While the letter targets China for now, it’s a fact that other European measures, including the Carbon Border Mechanism (CBM), are highly contentious, with India not in favor of those as well. Detractors have pointed out that these measures seek primarily to restrict competition for European manufacturers rather than achieve any real change on the ground.

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Tony Cheu

Tony is a BSc who has shifted from a career in finance to journalism recently. Passionate about the energy transition, he is particularly keen on the moves being made in the OECD countries to contribute to the energy transition.