AFL-CIO’s Trumka Demands Cutoff of Solar Products From Xinjiang

The leader of the AFL-CIO demands that the Biden administration and Congress cut off imports of solar energy products from China’s Xinjiang region.

The letter from the labor federation’s president, Richard Trumka, was addressed to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Trumka singled out products that “contain polysilicon made with forced labor.”

“These products must have no place in our efforts to fight climate change,” Trumka said. His letter, sent on Monday, carries considerable weight because the support of the labor federation and other unions helped propel Joe Biden to victory in last November’s election. A similar letter was sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

China’s government has come under international condemnation over its treatment of the Uyghurs, many of whom are Muslims, in Xinjiang. The region produces more than half the world’s supply of polysilicon, a metal that is a critical component in photovoltaic cells that turn the sun’s rays into electricity.

“The region’s outsized role in the global solar energy product supply chain and convincing evidence of systematic forced labor in the Uyghurs region’s solar production demands immediate focused action,” Trumka said in the three-page letter.

Xinjiang’s stranglehold on polysilicon production creates tension for the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers seeking to propel renewable energy in the U.S.

It’s part of a broader humanitarian challenge confronting the entire clean energy industries, which is reliant on China for renewable power components and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for cobalt used in electric vehicle batteries.

Growing concern about relying on polysilicon produced through forced labor highlights mounting awareness of the way cobalt is mined, said Sarah Ladislaw, senior vice president of the energy security and climate change program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday night. But over the weekend, a department spokesman said the administration was aware of the issues involved and pointed to a review of supply chains that Biden has ordered. The spokesman added that Blinken, along with the administration, remained committed to championing human rights.

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