the main points
- Experts say solar panel production could have links with slave labor.
- They also say that many low quality boards are not sustainable.
- Human rights lawyers have called for government reform.
Experts say Australia should approach its renewable energy transition with caution, amid concerns about labor exploitation in the production of solar panels.
Polysilicon is the most common material used in the production of solar panels, and about 45 percent of the world’s supply comes from Xinjiang, China.
The where experts accused the Chinese Communist Party of exploiting the Muslim Uighur minority in forced labor to make products including solar panels.
China vehemently denies allegations of human rights abuses against it .
Are solar panels produced by slaves?
Solar panel production is associated with forced labor, according to Martin Boersma, associate professor of modern slavery at the University of Notre Dame in Western Australia.
“Unfortunately, innovation aimed at addressing climate change can be linked to labor exploitation,” he said.
“Producers of solar-grade polysilicon are connected to Uyghur forced labor – either directly through participation in state-sponsored forced labor schemes, or indirectly through their raw material sources.”
Boersma said cobalt, a metal used to make electric cars, is also commonly associated with forced labor.
if it was Targets to be met Cobalt demand could increase by up to 25 times over current levels in the next two decades.
“This is problematic because about 70 percent of the cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where many workers are victims of labor abuses, including low incomes, unsafe working conditions, and even child labour,” he said.
“Both solar-grade polysilicon and cobalt are essential to the green energy transition, but we must not shy away from abusive working conditions that pollute the sources of these materials and the manufacture of solar panels and batteries.”
Freya Dinshaw, a senior advocate at the Human Rights Law Center (HRLC), said the Australian government needed to amend To prevent links between slave labor and Australian companies’ supply chains.
I have issued an HRLC on the modern slavery law, and what the amendment will do is introduce a new duty to prevent modern slavery.”
Under Australia’s current modern slavery legislation, companies are only required to report risks in their supply chains, and there is no penalty for non-compliance.
“Under this proposal, companies will need to do due diligence to identify, assess and address the risks of modern slavery, and can be held accountable if they fail to do so,” said Ms. Denshaw.
“Workers subject to modern slavery can also seek damages directly from companies unless those companies can demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the abuse from occurring.”
Arslan Hidayat, program director for the Uyghur Campaign in Washington, D.C., said the Australian government needed to do more to prevent products with bondage ties, such as solar panels, from being sold in Australia.
Miners work at the Chabara artisanal cobalt mine near Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in October. source: France Press agency / Junior like
“There seems to be a battle between what matters more: climate change or human rights,” he said.
“Obviously, both are very important issues. But you have these heartless big corporations, who use the excuse of climate change as a loophole to try to get their products out.”
Mr Hidayat said companies in Australia must “prove that their products are not made of slave labor” before they are allowed into the country.
What is Active Recovery, and why is it critical to a solar panel’s carbon footprint?
In addition to the alleged links to slave labor, there are also concerns about the quality of some solar panels and the energy used to produce them.
Active yield is the time it takes for a solar panel to produce the same amount of energy as it takes to make the panel.
Michelle McCann of PV-Lab, an Australian company focused on ensuring quality solar panels, said the active yield of a panel is critical to its carbon footprint.
Solar panels at a power plant in Changji, Xinjiang Province, China. source: GT / Costfoto/Future Publishing
“The longevity of solar panels is practically one of the biggest drivers of true active payback time,” she said.
“The pad should last for 25 years, and any previous replacement has a significant impact on active recovery time.”
Low-quality solar panels have a shorter life, Ms. McCann said, so the energy needed to make them doesn’t pay off.
“The problems start when manufacturers, in order to keep costs as low as possible, skimp on the relatively cheap plastics that make the panels weatherproof,” she said.
Ms. McCann said that “the same factory in China” can produce high- and low-quality solar panels, and consumers should be careful what they buy.
SBS News has contacted Energy Secretary Chris Bowen’s office, the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, and the Clean Energy Council for comment.