By Nichola Groom
(Reuters) – The leading trade group in the U.S. solar industry on Thursday released a set of voluntary guidelines for solar panel makers that it says could help rid products installed in the United States of components built overseas with forced labor.
Some US lawmakers have expressed concern that the industry depends on products, especially polysilicon raw material, linked to labor camps in China’s Xinjiang region. The US State Department has determined that Chinese authorities are carrying out genocide there, and imports of cotton and tomato products from the region have been banned this year.
China, the world’s largest manufacturer of solar products, denies all accusations of abuse.
In order to address these concerns, the US Solar Energy Industries Association unveiled a 40-page document https://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-supply-chain-traceability-protocol that describes the measures that companies should take to identify the sources of a product’s raw materials and trace their movements throughout the supply chain.
“We don’t want any indication of forced labor in the solar supply chain,” said John Smirnow, vice president of market strategy for SEIA, in an interview. “Serious concerns have been raised and we are responding in a serious way.”
The protocol, which does not specifically mention China, recommends that rigorous descriptions and documentation be included with products as they pass through factories and are shipped to the United States.
For example, for a silicon ingot that is shaped into logs and then sliced, those individual wafers should be identified as coming from a particular log or lot. That way, the wafer buyer could trace the products back to a specific bullion, according to the document.
The protocol also recommends that companies have their implementation of procedures audited by a third party.
At the end of last year, SEIA began urging its members to leave the Xinjiang region and asked its member companies to be able to provide assurances by June that their products are not subjected to forced labor.
UN experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mostly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in a vast camp system in Xinjiang in recent years.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Valdmanis and David Gregorio)