© Bloomberg. Photovoltaic panels at a solar farm operated by Yellow River Power in Gonghe County, Qinghai province, China, on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, can’t meet its environmental goals without connecting its abundant sources of renewable energy with its coastal megacities. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
(Bloomberg) — China’s solar industry pushed back against increasing U.S. scrutiny of human rights issues in Xinjiang, calling it slander designed to help American companies compete in the fast-growing sector.
Solar firms strictly follow international standards in the region and there’s no evidence of any forced labor, the China Photovoltaic Industry Association said in a WeChat post on Tuesday. It’s the group’s first statement on the issue, and it largely follows the official line on Xinjiang from Beijing.
The autonomous region in western China is home to nearly half the world’s production of polysilicon, the ultra-conductive material that’s a key ingredient in solar panels. U.S. President Joe Biden last week banned goods from the region unless companies can prove they aren’t made with forced labor.
The U.S., United Nations and others have accused China of suppressing the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang — claims that Beijing denies. Solar firms operating there have been tied to labor transfer programs accused of using coercion to strip Muslims of their culture and separate families.
See also: Secrecy, Abuse Claims Loom Over China’s Solar Plants in Xinjiang
The photovoltaic association said on Tuesday that solar companies operating in the region sign labor contracts in accordance to the law, and workers get paid and are free to choose their occupation.
“The so-called ‘forced labor’ issue is a lie fabricated out of thin air by the U.S. and other individual Western countries’ institutions and personnel, and it has seriously distorted the actual working conditions of the employees of industrial enterprises in Xinjiang,” it said in the WeChat post.
Even so, Chinese solar companies are slowly shifting production away from the region. The latest to do this was Risen Energy Co., which announced this week that it would build a 45 billion yuan ($7.1 billion) integrated solar power factory in Inner Mongolia.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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