Forced labour by Uighur Muslims ‘taints global supply of solar panels’

Almost half of all polysilicon is produced using forced labour in the Uighur region, researchers claim (Picture: Getty)

A huge chunk of the world’s solar panels production depends on forced labour from China’ Uighur Muslims, according to new research.

An investigation by Sheffield Hallam University estimates almost half of global supplies of polysilicon are produced by Uighurs under conditions ‘tantamount to enslavement’ in their home province of Xinjiang.

Some 95 per cent of all solar panels need polysilicon, used to make cells which convert light into electricity.

More than 90 per cent of all polysilicon ends up being used for this purpose.

The other 10 per cent is used to make semiconductors – key components in smartphones, laptops, and various other devices using electrical circuits.

China has come under intense international scrutiny for its treatment of Uighurs, notably in mass ‘re-education’ camps where former detainees claim to have experienced a system of mass torture, rape and forced sterilisation of women.

Officials deny human rights abuses and say the programmes are designed to ‘rehabilitate’ offenders linked to ‘terrorism’ in the province.

The government freely admits to the ‘placement’ of 2.6 million ‘minoritised’ citizens in various factory and farm jobs in Xinjiang and other provinces, but insists they are all taking part in voluntary ‘labour transfer’ schemes.

China dominates the global manufacturing of solar panels and their raw materials (Picture: Getty Images)

The researchers pieced together dozens of documents issued by Chinese authorities and companies.

They said ‘labour transfers are deployed in the Uighur Region within an environment of unprecedented coercion, undergirded by the constant threat of re-education and internment.’

Accepting jobs in factories hundreds of miles away from home was often the only way for Uighurs to leave the camps, the report added.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has warned that Uighurs who ‘refuse to improve their vocational skills [and] economic conditions’ are effectively allying themselves with the ideas of ‘terrorists, separatists and religious extremists’.

The researchers concluded: ‘Many indigenous workers are unable to refuse or walk away from these jobs, and thus the programmes are tantamount to forcible transfer of populations and enslavement.’

Photovoltaic cells depend on polysilicon, which is also used in smartphones and laptops (Picture: Getty)

Approximately 45 per cent of all polysilicon comes from manufacturers in the Uighur region, all of which admit to participating in the ‘labour transfer’ schemes or use suppliers that do, according to the report.

It was produced by an academic who has advised the UK and Australian governments on the Uighur region along with a supply chain analyst specialising in Chinese exporting businesses.

The authors, who between them have lived in Xinjiang for 24 years, said they had ‘investigated the entire solar module supply chain from quartz to panel’.

In March, the UK, US, Canada and the European Union sanctioned Chinese officials deemed to be responsible for human rights abuses in the Uighur region.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the situation in Xinjiang ‘one of the worst human rights crises of our time’ and said the international community ‘cannot simply look the other way’.

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