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In a unified effort led by the European Solar Manufacturing Council (ESMC), 39 European PV manufacturers are urging EU Member States to swiftly implement a robust regulation combatting forced labour. The plea comes as crucial negotiations on the prohibition of products made with forced labour are approaching, addressing critical details such as general rules, implementation timelines, and role responsibilities.

Since 2021, the solar industry has been in the spotlight following reports implicating major global solar manufacturers in the Chinese government’s alleged persecution of Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang, China. Contrary to common belief associating forced labour with textiles, Xinjiang also contributes significantly to global polysilicon production, a key component in Chinese-made PV panels exported to Europe. Consequently, the 2023 Global Slavery Index identifies solar panels as the fourth-highest at-risk goods for forced labour among G20 imports.

Academic reports from human rights and forced labour experts present compelling evidence linking major Chinese solar manufacturers to re-education camps and labour transfer programs in Xinjiang. Recent findings by Sheffield Hallam University reveal a growing opacity in solar supply chains since the initial allegations.

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. This undermines Europe’s commitment to a fair and resilient energy transition, in accordance with the key European values and principles.

Emphasizing that forced labour products have no place in the European market, the PV manufacturers outline key priorities for the forced labour regulation:

  1. Shift the burden of proof to companies in cases of alleged forced labour.
  2. Support the proposal from the European Parliament on giving the European Commission
    similar mandate as “competent authorities”.
  3. Expedite Implementation.
  4. Avoid recognizing unproven industry schemes.
  5. Recognize that disengagement is the only option in cases of state-sponsored forced labour.

Despite the solar industry’s pivotal role in combating climate change, the PV manufacturers stress that Europe’s clean energy transition must not compromise social and human rights. Urgently seeking an ambitious and effective response, the PV Manufacturers call for the prompt adoption of a robust European forced labour regulation.

Image: Systovi

Jens Holm
ESMC Sustainability Policy Director

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