Men in the accelerating push for solar energy around the world face a previously overlooked challenge: Industry supply chains are heavily dependent on Xinjiang, a Chinese region that the U.S. government and others say is a place of genocide against local ethnic minorities including the most Muslim Uyghur inhabitants.
About half of the world’s supply of polysilicon, a key ingredient in most solar panels, comes from this part of northwestern China, where human rights groups and US officials say China runs an extensive network of detention camps that the United States says has held more than 1 million Uighurs, a Muslim minority group.
Some in the renewable energy industry say they fear that polysilicon and other important materials coming from Xinjiang may be linked to forced labor. And the lack of unrestricted access to Xinjiang means that it is difficult to ensure that suppliers are in any way associated with human rights violations.
Global pressure to curb trade with Xinjiang is building. Both the United States and the European Union are weighing legislation that could lead to a ban on imports of several products from the region, including polysilicon. The United States already banned imports of Xinjiang-produced cotton and tomatoes in January.
Many western solar cell companies are already struggling to reduce their exposure to the region and fear that their industry will be illuminated next.