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Rutland and Melton MP joins officials demanding action on Uyghur forced labour in solar supply chains

By Evie Payne

20th Mar 2024 | Local News

Alicia Kearns at PMQT earlier this year. Image credit: LDRS.
Alicia Kearns at PMQT earlier this year. Image credit: LDRS.

Alicia Kearns, the Rutland and Melton MP, has joined officials demanding action on Uyghur forced labour in solar supply chains.

On Monday 18 March 2024, Alicia Kearns MP submitted a joint statement to the Secretaries of State for FCDO, BT and ESNZ, calling for action to end Uyghur forced labour in the UK's solar industry's supply chains.

The statement is signed by forty-three Members of Parliament and thirty-two human rights NGOs. MPs from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP, and Green Party support the statement.

It raises concerns over the use of systemic state-imposed forced labour of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples in industries critical to the clean energy transition, adding that contributors "are particularly concerned over the exposure of the UK solar industry to human rights abuses occurring in the Uyghur Region".

The statement is signed by five select Committee Chairs, including Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns MP, the Chair of the Business and Trade Committee, Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP and the Chair of the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Angus MacNeil MP.

Sheffield Hallam University's two reports 'In Broad Daylight' and 'Over-Exposed' have set out in detail how exposed the solar industry is to Uyghur forced labour.

Uyghur forced labour in UK supply chains was also raised at a follow-up sitting of the Foreign Affairs Committee into the Xinjiang Inquiry held in February, Chaired by Alicia Kearns MP.

The USA has already implemented strict import controls on goods linked to Uyghur forced labour through the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and the EU is bringing in similar restrictions with the EU Forced Labour Regulation. The UK is at risk of becoming a global outlier and dumping ground for goods made with Uyghur forced labour.

Companies alleged to have benefitted from Uyghur forced labour are currently in the planning process to build solar developments so large they qualify as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. The Secretary of State for ESNZ is currently determining whether to grant approval for the 350mw Mallard Pass solar plant application from Canadian Solar, a company deemed to have a high risk of exposure to Uyghur forced labour in Sheffield Hallam University's report.

Alicia Kearns MP previously tabled an amendment to the Energy Bill which would have blocked companies with links to forced labour from applying to build large scale solar developments classifying as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

The Government has instead focused on an industry led approach, revealed in the Solar Stewardship Initiative (SSI) published last September. The SSI does not make a single mention of Uygur forced labour and has already accredited several companies with alleged links to forced labour. The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region has issued a statement stating that the SSI "fails its members and the wider solar industry by remaining silent on Uyghur Forced Labour."

The joint statement calls for the following policies:

  1. The introduction of import controls to insulate our market from all goods made wholly or partially with forced labour
  2. Complementary measures to enable the diversification of solar and other clean energy industry supply chains
  3. Targeted sanctions to bar offending solar companies from operating in the UK

Alicia Kearns, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Member of Parliament for Rutland and Melton said: "This statement has been signed by forty-three cross party MP's and thirty-two human rights NGOs, the Government must take note and act. The solar industry has a well-documented history of supply chain links to Uyghur forced labour and we cannot tolerate our green transition coming off the back of slavery and genocide.

"The US has already acted, and the EU is passing regulations to protect their market from Uyghur forced labour. The UK is fast becoming a global outlier and dumping ground for solar panels made with materials mined and processed by Uyghur slaves. It does not have to be this way.

"We have set out three policies which would insulate the UK market from Uyghur forced labour, channel investment to ethical companies and sanction the worst offenders from operating in the UK. We have the evidence, our global allies have shown there are solutions, now we need the Government to match its rhetoric on Xinjiang and clean up this industry."

Rahima Mahmut, Executive Director, Stop Uyghur Genocide said: "The Chinese government is carrying out egregious human rights abuses against the Uyghur people that amount to genocide. The UK has yet to adopt any meaningful legislation to address corporate complicity in Uyghur forced labour and is quickly becoming a dumping ground for forced labour made goods. How long do Uyghurs have to wait for the UK government to act? I urge the government to swiftly adopt and robustly enforce a forced labour import ban."

Sian Lea, Business and Human Rights Manager, Anti-Slavery International Said: "We urgently need to transition to clean energy for people and planet, and this means importing solar panels and other forms of renewable energy. But we cannot allow this crucial transition to be built on an acceptance of and complicity in human rights abuses.

"The truth is that the UK is at extreme risk of being a dumping ground for goods made with forced labour, including solar panels that are heavily linked to Uyghur forced labour. The Government cannot be sourcing goods complicit in these abuses. We urgently need the UK Government to invest in alternative supply chains that don't rely on the Uyghur Region."

"Alongside this, we need complementary import controls that would stop goods made with forced labour from entering the UK. While nobody wants to see crucial green technology seized at borders, we must make sure the green transition is not allowed to be built from human suffering."

The joint statement concludes: "the Government to sanction the worst offending companies and bar them from building key national infrastructure projects in the UK. Companies such as Canadian Solar have well-documented links to forced labour yet are currently applicants in nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) planning proposals. This is unacceptable and there should be a mechanism to bar companies who benefit from systemic state-imposed forced labour from being awarded lucrative contracts and development rights.

"The green transition is vital and urgent, but it must not be built on the back of forced labour and genocide. As the world legislates to insulate their markets from goods made by forced labour, the UK is fast becoming a dumping ground for those same goods. We must act now, introduce import controls, diversify our supply chains, and sanction those companies most implicated in benefitting from and contributing to these abuses.

"We would be grateful for a meeting to discuss these proposals further."

     

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