Solar panels sold in NL often made by Uighur forced laborers: Report
Government-backed solar energy facilities in the Netherlands often use solar panels manufactured by Chinese firms linked to forced labor, according to FD. The panels are commonly produced using polysilicon sourced from the Western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where an estimated one million Uighur people are being held in the country's re-education camps and being used as forced labor.
Eighty percent of the solar panels sold in the Netherlands are produced by Chinese companies, and nearly all have ties to suppliers suspected of using forced labor. Their panels are in use not only in massive government projects, but also on household rooftops, the FD reported.
The newspaper investigation named Longi Solar, Jinko Solar and Trina Solar as major global industry players tied to suspect suppliers. Jinko and Trina panels are sold by three wholesalers in the Netherlands: ESTG, SolarToday and ProfiNRG.
Trina panels are offered to homeowners in deals organized by Vereniging Eigen Huis. A spokesperson for the association responded to questions about the practice of placing Uighur prisoners in the supply chain by saying, "The problem is that we cannot control forced labor ourselves."
Panels from Jinko Solar have been used in government subsidized energy projects in Almelo, Anna Paulowna and Oosterhout, and likely elsewhere, FD alleged. Despite the government spending 4.5 billion euros on solar in 2020, there was no readily available record detailing where panels from questionable brands are used.
"It is fair to say that we have not thought about this in such a way before. We are now researching our value chain," a spokesperson for solar park developer Solarfields told FD.
"If it turns out that this is really happening, then we should reconsider the position of a brand like Jinko Solar," said ESTG CEO Klaas Galama.
Polysilicon is created by refining sand into silicon metal, a conductive metal. It is made nearly 100-percent pure in a process that utilizes furnaces reaching a thousand degrees Celsius and dangerous chemicals. Because of Xinjiang's access to coal, producing the material there is far cheaper than elsewhere. According to a Bloomberg report, electricity makes up 40 percent of the operating costs to refine polysilicon. The extensive use of coal also causes a massive amount of carbon emissions.
Lobbying group Holland Solar said it was not possible for them to monitor if forced labor is used before raw materials arrive at the factory. It said that even if 80 percent of solar panels sold in the Netherlands are made in China, the other 20 percent are at least partially produced there.
"We can only monitor what is happening at the factory level. We do not see forced labor there," said Amelie Veenstra, the organization's policy director. She expressed concern that the Netherlands would not be able to achieve its climate goals if solar panels from China are banned.
The newspaper noted that retail giant IKEA was looking to cut ties with Jinko due to pressure in Sweden. Though founded in Sweden, IKEA is headquartered in the Netherlands.