US blocks solar panel materials from China over labor abuses

WASHINGTON (AP) — Chinese-made materials used in solar panels will be barred from the U.S. market as part of a broader effort to halt commerce tied to China’s repressive campaign against Uyghurs and other minorities, the Biden administration said Thursday.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will immediately halt shipments from the Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. Ltd. and its subsidiaries under a law that bans the import of goods produced with forced labor.

In addition, the Commerce Department will add six Chinese entities involved in the production of raw materials and components for the solar industry to a blacklist barring them from access to the American market, the administration said.

These latest moves could make it harder for the U.S. to meet renewable energy goals aimed at addressing climate change because about 45% of the global supply of the polysilicon used to make photovoltaic cells for solar panels comes from Xinjiang region. A CBP investigation found evidence that the industry is tainted by forced labor tied to the campaign against ethnic minorities.

“Our environmental goals will not be achieved on the backs of human beings in a forced labor environment,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a news conference. “We are going to root out forced labor and we are going to use alternative products that are manufactured legitimately in keeping with our values and our commitment to a fair market place.”

It’s part of a campaign that has gained global momentum to apply economic pressure on the Chinese government over its forced assimilation of largely Muslim minorities in the far western Xinjiang region. The U.S. has already banned cotton and tomatoes from the area and both Canada and Britain have also moved to restrict imports over the issue.

The administration said the Labor Department will also update its list of goods known to be produced with forced labor to include polysilicon from China. That will put additional pressure on U.S. manufacturers to remove Chinese components from their supply chains.

CBP is still investigating the extent of Hoshine in the U.S. market but direct shipments over the past 2 1/2 years totaled about $6 million while imports that include material from the company were about $150 million, said Ana Hinojosa, who runs the agency’s trade enforcement team.

The company’s shipments to the country have declined amid expectations that the U.S. would take some kind of enforcement action over abuses in Xinjiang.

China denies allegations that it uses forced labor in Xinjiang or elsewhere and has broadly rejected the consistent and well-documented reports that Uyghurs and other minorities have been detained under brutal conditions, subjected to indoctrination and intensive surveillance intended to force them to assimilate into the dominant Han culture.