As global efforts ramp up to meet sustainability goals and to combat climate change, investors have channeled more than $300 billion in 2020 to support the global transition to renewable energy, with the highest investment in solar energy. However, there needs to be a just transition to clean energy that doesn’t come at the expense of people and planet.
A recent report from Sheffield Hallam University’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, “In Broad Daylight,” reveals the extensive use of forced labor from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Uyghur Region) in the global solar supply chain. An estimated 45% of the world’s polysilicon supply, the core component in solar panel production, originates from the Uyghur Region. Uyghur forced labor is prevalent throughout all stages of solar panel production, from the mining of quartz to solar module assembly. The report also uncovers the use of enormous amounts of coal to create polysilicon for solar panels, enabled through heavy government subsidies, accounting for China’s near-monopoly of solar panel production by undercutting solar industries around the world.
On September 27, 2021 the Investor Alliance hosted a panel discussion for investors on the risks of forced labor in the solar industry. The goal of the webinar was for investors to:
– be informed of the scale and nature of Uyghur forced labor in the solar supply chain;
– understand the connection of solar companies to this abuse and the implications in light of new regulations, and governments’ response on this issue;
– evaluate their investment portfolios to assess connection and exposure to human rights impacts and risks;
– discuss what steps investors should consider, individually and collectively, to address their responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; and
– discuss what steps other financial sector actors are beginning to take in response.
We were very fortunate to have expert speakers to take us through this discussion:
– Laura Murphy, Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery, Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, Sheffield Hallam University and co-author of “In Broad Daylight” report;
– Nyrola Elimä, Researcher at Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice and co-author of “In Broad Daylight” report;
– Reginald Smith, Research Analyst at Eventide Asset Management; and
– Ashleigh Owens, Deputy Director, Financial Institutions Lead & Senior Advisor at Shift Project.
The webinar was moderated by Anita Dorett, Director of the Investor Alliance for Human Rights.