Full Title: Confronting the Solar Manufacturing Industry's Human Rights Problem
Author(s): Seaver Wang and Juzel Lloyd
Publisher(s): Breakthrough Institute
Publication Date: November 15, 2022
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The future of solar photovoltaic (PV) power looks bright precisely because it has attained stunning cost improvements over a relatively short period of time. To be clear, the lion’s share of this progress has occurred thanks to legitimate technological advances and innovation in manufacturing. Chinese firms invested heavily in large, modern factories that have achieved high efficiencies of scale, aided by substantial regional then national government support in the form of direct subsidies, cheap land, and subsidized, affordable electricity.
But solar manufacturing plants that began operating in Xinjiang over a decade ago were attracted to industrial parks and coal mines established under regional political oppression that left Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz peoples uniquely powerless—even by the political standards of authoritarian China—to object to local environmental and socioeconomic impacts. And in subsequent years, as regional authorities have intensified repressive policies targeting minoritized peoples, solar PV manufacturers have continued to expand in the region while directly participating in state-sponsored forced labor programs.
Ignoring the challenge at hand will only perpetuate the intertwining of solar supply chains with Chinese government repression, authoritarianism, and environmental injustice. At the same time, procrastination on supply chain reorganizations will suppress and postpone necessary evolutions in solar manufacturing that solar technologies need to truly—and justly—achieve global scale.