The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act issued in the United States as a measure to discourage slave labor against ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, began to take effect on June 21.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized over 1,000 shipments of solar energy equipment up to October 25. This was reported by the authorities following a freedom of information request by Reuters. It also clarified that all shipments remain on hold pending further processing. The name of the manufacturers and the quantity in each shipment were not specified, in accordance with federal commercial data protection laws.

Confidential sources, who remain anonymous, told Reuters that the seized products include solar panels manufactured by Longi Green Energy Technology, Trina Solar, and JinkoSolar Holding. These Chinese companies are among the world’s largest in their field, accounting for about 30% of the solar panel supply in the United States.

Approximately 50% of the polysilicon used to manufacture solar panels comes from the Xinjiang region.

The new law states that all imported goods from Xinjiang are banned suppliers can prove they were not made with forced labor as stipulated in Section 307 of the act. To avoid the restrictions imposed under this law, companies must submit evidence certifying that their products do not contain raw materials and were not manufactured in Xinjiang. CBP will determine the validity of the documentation and clear, or not, the product.

A list of Chinese companies using forced labor was released by the Department of Homeland Security. While no solar equipment manufacturing companies were found, polysilicon companies such as Hoshine, Daqo, GCL, and East Hope are listed. Any companies that purchase their products from those on the list would be directly linked to the Customs restrictions.

CBP did not comment on how long the seized material will be held. CPB spokeswoman Rhonda Lawson said, “Ultimately, it depends on how quickly an importer can produce sufficient documentation.”

Lawmakers in other countries around the world are also reacting to evidence of forced labor in Xinjiang. In July, the European Union introduced a resolution similar to the one in force in the United States, but included all goods made with slave labor anywhere in the world.

A member of the European Parliament, Anna Cavazzini believes that Europe must and can achieve its climate goals without violating human rights. She said, “We should not have to reach our net zero targets on the backs of those trapped in slave labor.”

However, the task looks complicated.

The Biden administration, the government seeks to boost renewable energy to break dependence on fossil fuels. Only now, with the implementation of this new law, it has highlighted the weakness of the domestic industry to meet the government’s ambitions.

A spokesman for the trade group American Clean Power said solar installations in the U.S. suffered a 23% slowdown in the last quarter because they were unable source solar panels, due in part to the Customs seizures.

Europe is at the same crossroads.

The Association of Energy Market Innovators in Germany warned that if imports of Chinese PV equipment are stopped, this would cause a collapse of the sector, as these supplies are largely dependent on Chinese imports.

In 2021, Europe imported more than 80% of polysilicon from China.

China also produces more than 95% of the so-called solar ingots, which are used to prepare the wafers that make up solar panels, and at the same time it is responsible for almost all of the production of these solar wafers worldwide.

Xinjiang is where the focus of this solar industry is located, so it is very likely that solar panels all over the world have been built, to a greater or lesser extent, with the slave labor of a Uyghur.

And solar panels are just one of the products that the new Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act seeks to control. Xinjiang not only produces cotton, tomatoes, and polysilicon, it also plays a role in the automotive industry, pharmaceuticals, and advanced battery manufacturing, so the risk of being exposed to using products made with slave labor is high.

An investigation published by Altana showed that almost 1 million companies are reportedly linked to Uyghur forced labor, forming a commercial network with millions of business relationships spread over almost 600 different sub-industries, covering most of the world. 

From T-shirts for Latin America, razors in Australia, electronics for Europeans, and antibiotics for global consumption, all may have had a product made by a modern slave in their hands.

The Laogai Research Foundation says there are more than 1,000 detention centers run by the Chinese regime, an inexhaustible source of free labor, and of course several of them are in Xinjiang.

The dilemma that faces countries that follow standard trade rules and regulations and respects the dignity and human rights of workers and even sacrifices, they are competing with a regime that does not hesitate to violate any law in order to reach the global dominance in the world trade network.

David Ball of the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign said that this new law “will help to raise the profile of the problem and embarrass the Chinese government, forcing it to explain and defend its over-exploitative practices.”

Jewher Ilham, the forced labor project coordinator at the Worker Rights Consortium, added, “There is no doubt that these bans and their effort to end corporate complicity are having a profound economic impact that puts real pressure on the Chinese government to end state-sponsored forced labor.”

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