Foreign Policy

published : 2023-09-29

Dem, GOP Reps Alarmed by Biden Admin's Alleged Negligence on Solar Industry's Forced Labor Ties

Republican Rep Says Biden Administration is Surrendering United States to CCP

In front of the U.S. Capitol Building, a group of lawmakers led by Representative Carol Miller gather to discuss the enforcement of laws preventing goods manufactured with forced labor from entering American ports. (Photo taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

A bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers is urging the Biden administration to fully enforce laws preventing goods manufactured with forced labor from entering American ports.

Led by Representative Carol Miller, the lawmakers penned a letter to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Troy Miller, expressing concern that the agency may be falling short of the requirements set forth in the 2021 Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), particularly in relation to the billion-dollar solar industry.

According to the lawmakers, the Biden administration's focus on climate change is leading to the United States surrendering to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). They claim that by allowing solar panels manufactured with Chinese polysilicon to avoid detection, the administration is encouraging Uyghur forced labor and distorting the market, resulting in the loss of American jobs.

Representative Miller issued a statement to Fox News Digital, stating, 'I am calling on Customs and Border Patrol to strongly enforce the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and stop products that were made by forced labor from entering the United States. We have a moral obligation to strategically decouple from China and their inhumane labor practices.'

The lawmakers also referenced comments from an executive at Chinese solar panel maker JA Solar, obtained by the House Ways and Means Committee, which indicate that some American ports are releasing products originating from China more easily. This raises concerns about the adequacy of scrutiny and implementation of the UFLPA.

A close-up shot captures Chinese polysilicon being used in the production of solar panels. The controversial sourcing of this material has raised concerns about the use of forced labor in the solar industry. (Photo taken with Nikon D850)

The bipartisan group emphasizes the need to hold companies accountable for skirting U.S. laws designed to prevent economic benefits from forced labor crimes. They called on CBP to coordinate with civil society, private industry, and the interagency task force to ensure full compliance with the UFLPA for all products entering the U.S.

The UFLPA, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio, prohibits goods made with Uyghur forced labor in Xinjiang from entering the U.S. and empowers the Department of Homeland Security and CBP to maintain a list of Chinese entities linked to forced labor. The legislation was signed into law by President Biden and went into effect in June 2022.

Federal data from CBP reveals that while solar shipments originating from China are being stopped under the UFLPA, the majority of these shipments are still being released into the U.S. market. The CBP has detained 2,412 shipments of electronics worth $1.5 billion but has only denied 36% of those shipments valued at $391 million. This category includes solar panel supplies.

The UFLPA and broader efforts to crack down on Chinese forced labor practices in the West have been prompted by reports linking the solar panel industry, especially the production of polysilicon, to facilities in China's Xinjiang province. Xinjiang accounts for about 40% of global polysilicon manufacturing.

Reports and studies have highlighted how the Chinese government uses 'labor transfer' programs in Xinjiang to forcibly place millions of Uyghur Muslim minorities into jobs, including polysilicon production. These programs have been condemned as tantamount to forcible transfer of populations and enslavement.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Troy Miller addresses a press conference, emphasizing the agency's commitment to enforcing the 2021 Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. (Photo taken with Sony Alpha a7R IV)

Despite these reports, the Chinese government denies employing forced labor or using it in the production of photovoltaic products.

China maintains a dominant position in the global solar supply chain, accounting for over 80% of all manufacturing stages of solar panels. The country produces 95% of the global supply of polysilicon, ingot, and wafer supplies.

The Biden administration has been actively promoting solar energy investments as part of its climate agenda, aiming for a carbon-free power grid by 2035. However, concerns about the use of forced labor in the solar industry raise questions about the sustainability and ethical implications of pursuing this goal.

As lawmakers push for stronger enforcement of the UFLPA, the future of the solar industry and its ties to China will likely remain a contentious issue in U.S. politics and global efforts to combat forced labor.