July 21, 2024

Best Interiors

Let's Talk Home

Britain risks becoming dumping ground for ‘slave labour’ solar panels

Britain risks becoming dumping ground for ‘slave labour’ solar panels

The sheer scale of the Chinese solar panel industry remains reliant on Uyghur slaves – China Stringer Network/Reuters

Britain risks becoming a dumping ground for solar panels made by Chinese slave labour unless it brings in tough new laws, a leading MP has warned.

Alicia Kearns, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said that with the US and EU both passing laws to ban solar products made by Uyghur slave labour, many will end up in the UK where an estimated 98pc of solar panels are already Chinese made.

The warning comes at a crucial time for the UK’s burgeoning solar industry. The Government is about to publish its long-awaited Solar Roadmap committing the UK to a massive expansion of solar farms and domestic rooftop installations, from 18 gigawatts now to about 70 gigawatts by 2035.

It means millions of solar panels will be installed across the English and Welsh countryside, eventually covering an area larger than Middlesex.

Almost all will come from China, which dominates global supply, including 98pc of the European market. Its low prices have roughly halved the costs of solar modules since 2015.

Ms Kearns warns that China has only achieved such prices by massive use of slave labour, including the 2 million to 3 million Uyghur and Kazakh citizens from the Xinjiang region who were placed into forced labour camps. It means many of the modules used on UK homes and in solar farms may originate in Chinese slave labour.

She said: “Solar is one of the most dirty and complicit industries in Uyghur blood labour… The UK is at risk of becoming a dumping ground for slave labour-produced solar panels as both the US and EU have taken action. The fight against forced labour is a collective responsibility. We must work for a clean energy transition, but without becoming complicit in not just slavery, but genocide.”

The sheer scale of the Chinese solar panel industry’s reliance on Uyghur slaves has been revealed in reports by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University which also names the Chinese companies involved.

Its latest report, from 2023, says: “China has a near-monopoly over the production of solar-grade polysilicon, a material that is used in the manufacturing of 95pc of solar panels.

Britain risks becoming dumping ground for ‘slave labour’ solar panelsBritain risks becoming dumping ground for ‘slave labour’ solar panels

Ms Kearns says that Britain must work towards a clean energy transition, but without becoming complicit slavery and genocide – John Lawrence

“In 2020, China produced 75pc of the global supply of solar-grade polysilicon, with manufacturers in the Uyghur Region accounting for over 45pc of the total global production…There is overwhelming evidence that major producers and manufacturers, have actively recruited and employed ‘transferred surplus [slave] labour’ from rural villages.”

Such reports have already prompted the US to block many Chinese solar panel imports. Last month, the EU agreed to implement its own rules, the Forced Labour Ban Regulation, which now awaits final approval from the EU parliament.

Last month, foreign office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan agreed the use of Uyghur slave labour to make solar panels for Britain was “unacceptable” but confirmed the UK had yet to take action.

Solar Energy UK, the trade body, said it would shortly publish a Solar Stewardship Initiative setting out plans to create supply chains within China but free of slavery.

Chris Hewett, the body’s chief executive, said: “The UK solar industry condemns and opposes any abuse of human rights in the global supply chain.” However, he was unable to say how it planned to audit and monitor suppliers in China.

Ms Kearns said government plans to create parallel supply chains, one with slaves and one without, were a moral failure.

She said: “The idea we can operate dual supply chains in China, one with slaves and the other not, is preposterous.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.