Workers crush silicon metal in the Jingang Circular Economy Industrial Park in Yili (= Ili) prefecture, Xinjiang – Image: Kokodala News
A new research report from the Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) in England reveals so far unknown details about silicon metal, polysilicon and wafer manufacturers using forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region in northwestern China.
The 69-page report, which was released today, bases its evidence on numerous sources documented in more than 300 endnotes. The impact of forced labor in Xinjiang on the solar supply chain is extensive: “The downstream companies that are potentially affected by forced labor span the globe,” concludes lead author Laura T. Murphy, Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at SHU’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice.
Why “surplus labor” and “poverty alleviation” are code phrases for forced labor
China’s government adamantly denies the existence of forced labor in Xinjiang and elsewhere in the country. In contrast, the SHU report describes how persistently government and private labor agencies are urging indigenous Uyghur and Kazakh citizens from Xinjiang into so-called “surplus labor”, “labor transfer” and “poverty alleviation” programs.
Such programs have long existed in Xinjiang, but are now operating “against a backdrop of mass internment and extra-judicial imprisonment, which make refusal to participate a non-option,” states the report, alluding to a system of 1,300 to 1,400 detention centers and internment camps in Xinjiang. Expert Adrian Zenz estimates the number of inmates at up to 1.8 million. “No Uyghur or other minoritised citizen could refuse participation in these government-run programmes without risk of being sent to the camps,” say Murphy and her co-author Nyrola Elimä.
They cite a government report published in November 2020 which documents the “placement” of 2.6 million citizens in farms and factories within Xinjiang and across the country. That makes up about one fifth of the Uyghur and Kazakh population in Xinjiang.
Regarding Xinjiang-based manufacturers in the solar supply chain, here are some key findings of the report:
Xinjiang Hoshine Silicon
With a production volume of 498,500 metric tons in 2020, Xinjiang Hoshine Silicon is the world’s largest manufacturer of metallurgical-grade silicon (silicon metal), the raw material for polysilicon. The company has two factories in Xinjiang: one in Shihezi and the other in Shanshan. The latter has recruited “transferred surplus labor” (the local labor agency mentioned 5,000 workers in 2017).
Moreover, Hoshine’s Shanshan factory most likely sources quartz from a nearby industrial park that engages in labor transfers and is the site of two internment camps. Hoshine’s chemicals supplier Xinjiang Tianye in Shihezi also participates in labor transfers. In 2019 Xinjiang Hoshine received US$9.7 million of subsidies from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a paramilitary corporate conglomerate that is also operating some internment camps and facilitating forced labor transfers.
Hoshine supplies more than 33% of Daqo New Energy’s silicon metal demand. According to Hoshine’s 2019 Annual Report, other major customers include GCL-Poly’s subsidiary Jiangsu Zhongneng, Asia Silicon and Wacker Chemie. In February 2021 Hoshine disclosed further customers on a Chinese online investor forum: Tongwei, Xinjiang GCL, Xinte Energy, East Hope and South Korea’s OCI. If its statement is correct, Hoshine supplies all of the world’s top eight polysilicon manufacturers and thus contaminates almost the complete solar supply chain. This is probably the most startling finding of the SHU report.
Daqo New Energy
The world’s third largest polysilicon manufacturer, which is located in Shihezi, is not only exposed to forced labor issues at its supplier Hoshine. Xinjiang Sokesi New Materials, which supplies 47% of Daqo’s silicon metal needs, participates in state-sponsored, organized transfers of labor as well. Daqo itself received US$11.7 million in 2018 and US$5.1 million in 2019 from the XPCC-run Shihezi government. The company has also obtained subsidies for “labor placements” from the Chinese government.
The SHU report notes that “placement” is a term the central government as well as regional and local authorities sometimes use for labor transfer. Asked for comment by the authors, Daqo argues that “placement” is a mistranslation of a Chinese phrase that refers to “a very common subsidy scheme utilized by local governments globally” – in this case, “to attract skilled labor to work in the Xinjiang area.” The company stresses that only 18 of its 1,934 employees are ethnic minority citizens. Daqo also states that it has received written reassurance from its suppliers that they are not engaged in forced labor.
Polysilicon manufacturer Xinjiang GCL, in which GCL-Poly has a share of 38.5%, had employed more than 60 people through surplus labor transfers in late 2018. By December 2019 the company recruited 121 indigenous employees, partly through “acceptance of poor minority people from southern Xinjiang,” which is likely a state-sponsored labor transfer.
The SHU report does not provide any evidence on direct involvement of polysilicon maker Xinte Energy in forced labor. However, Xinte’s parent TBEA is heavily engaged in surplus labor transfers and had invested approximately US$4.5 million in various “poverty alleviation” programs by May 2020. “It may be the case that these programmes are employed throughout and supported by all of its Uyghur Region subsidiaries and facilities,” write the report authors. TBEA’s CEO Zhang Xin is a representative of the National People’s Congress and an enthusiastic promoter of the programs in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang East Hope
East Hope Group, which produces silicon metal and polysilicon as well as other metallurgical and chemical products, has engaged in “surplus labor” programs in Xinjiang since at least 2017. In that year, the official social media account of the prefectural Public Security Bureau for the Zhundong Economic and Technological Development Zone reported that 95 workers from southern Xinjiang had been transferred over a distance of roughly 1,500 kilometers to Xinjiang East Hope. In March 2020 the company reported that it had recently employed at least 235 transferred laborers in its plants.
Xinjiang Jinko Solar
JinkoSolar’s subsidiary in Xinjiang’s Yili (also known as Ili) prefecture produces 42% of the company’s ingots and wafers. In the spring of 2020, Xinjiang Jinko accepted 78 “registered unemployed personnel” from the Kunas County government; in July 2020 the company received subsidies for “accepting forty poor laborers” from southern Xinjiang.
Xinjiang Jinko is located in the Xinyuan Industrial Park, which also houses a high-security prison and an internment camp. Historical satellite images from Google Earth show that Xinjiang Jinko’s factory and the prison and detention center were being built at the same time in 2016, only two and a half kilometers apart. The report authors have not dug up conclusive evidence, but see a heightened risk that either the internment camp or prison provides labor for Jinko.
The SHU report contains many more details – also on a string of other companies in the solar supply chain – but the findings above already make clear that the PV industry has a massive problem with its ties to forced labor in Xinjiang. In particular, the vast outreach of silicon metal market leader Hoshine poses a challenge that has remained under the radar so far and needs to be addressed by its customers as quickly as possible.
The full report is available for download on the website of the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice.
Murphy, L. and Elimä, N. (2021): “In Broad Daylight: Uyghur Forced Labour and Global Solar Supply Chains.” Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Hallam University Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice