The Ethical sourcing of solar panels in the supply chain – September 2021

As previously reported, back in May and following the publication of the report by Sheffield Hallam university entitled ‘In Broad Daylight – Uyghur Forced Labour and Global Supply Chains’, we wrote to all the Devon Local Planning Authorities where solar farms are proposed regarding the serious issue of forced labour in the supply chain of solar panels. Devon CPRE consider it to be unethical and unacceptable to allow solar panels made using forced labour to be sited in Devon. We referred the Local Authorities to the statement by the Foreign Secretary earlier in the year which announced a package of measures to help ensure that British organisations, whether public or private sector, are not complicit in, nor profiting from, the human rights violations in Xinjiang.

But the replies which we received from the councils who responded is that they have no powers to control where developers source their materials from and cannot ensure that they come from an ethical source.

So 3 months ago, we wrote to the relevant Devon MPs. We asked them the following –
1. In the statement on the Government website, it refers to a package of measures, but does not state what these measures are. We should be grateful if you would advise us of these please.

2. If local planning authorities who are faced with determining planning applications for large solar farms say that they have no power to control where the solar panels are sourced, then clearly they could be said to be giving indirect approval or linked to allowing forced labour in the supply chain. Local Planning Authorities surely must be able to enforce where and how the solar panels are sourced, otherwise the Government statement is meaningless.

3. Surely until the local authorities can be reassured that the solar panels are sourced ethically, the decisions on such planning applications should not be made?

2 of our MPs referred the matter to the Secretary of State. We have now received a response from the Minister for Rough Sleeping & Housing. We believe the response is disingenuous. It says that there is no planning power (which we knew); and that the solar industry is committed to thinking about it. In other words, they are committed to thinking about making a protocol that will help them to know when they are using the products of slavery.

Yet here is what the Foreign Secretary said in February: “Further measures include increasing support for UK public bodies to exclude businesses complicit in human rights violations from their supply chains.”

And the Home Secretary said: “Businesses and public bodies must be more vigilant than ever before and ensure they are not inadvertently allowing forced labour in their supply chains.”

The Trade Secretary said: “These new measures demonstrate that we will not turn a blind eye nor tolerate complicity in the human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang. Forced labour, anywhere in the world, is unacceptable. This Government wants to work with businesses to support responsible practices, and ensure British consumers are not unwittingly buying products that support the cruelty we are witnessing against the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”

We have been invited to approach the Cabinet Office about it so we will do just that, and ask what exactly any of the above means, if local authorities are REQUIRED BY LAW to accept the products of Uyghur slavery in their jurisdictions. We will keep you updated on this serious issue. See the Minister’s response here Response for Devon CPRE