Modern Slavery Is a Global Problem in All Renewable Energy Supply Chains: New Report
There is growing evidence that clean energy supply chains throughout the world are linked with modern slavery, according to a new report from Australia’s Clean Energy Council. The report calls attention to Australia’s part in global efforts to stop the problem, despite the country’s relatively small role in the industry, according to a Clean Energy Council press release.
“Australia is on a trajectory to produce the vast majority of our electricity from solar, wind, hydro and batteries by 2030, but it’s important that this shift happens in a way that is fair and equitable,” said Clean Energy Council Policy Director of Energy Generation and Storage Dr. Nicholas Aberle in the press release. “As with many other modern products ubiquitous in everyday life, renewable energy technologies can have long supply chains that are linked at various points to modern slavery.”
The report, “Addressing Modern Slavery in the Clean Energy Sector,” has asked for increased local manufacturing and renewable energy production, including a “certificate of origin” program to contend with slave labor concerns in South America, China and Africa.
“The points of exposure most in need of attention are the manufacture of various key components and the extraction of raw minerals where renewables are expected to become a growing share of the market,” Aberle said in the press release. “One of the strategies that should be explored as part of a broader approach to this issue is the potential for establishing domestic supply chain capabilities.”
The report said that, as Australia is on a path to getting most of its electricity supply needs met through renewable sources by 2030, it must deliberately address the issue of modern slavery in the industry, The Guardian reported.
There has been a growing demand for balsa wood to be used in wind turbine blades, which has caused an increase in Amazon deforestation, reported Renew Economy. The balsa supply chain has led to workers in Ecuador being compensated for their labor with drugs and alcohol, and to the plundering of land rights of Indigenous communities in Peru.
The metals and minerals used in the renewable energy industries are also a great cause for concern regarding the occurrence of modern slavery.
“The World Bank estimates a 250 per cent rise in demand for key minerals used in wind turbines under climate action scenarios in which global temperatures are kept to within 2°C of warming. A single 3 MW wind turbine alone contains approximately 4.7 tons of copper,” the report said, according to Renew Economy.
From 15 to 30 percent of the global supply of cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it was discovered by Amnesty International that children as young as seven were being put to work in dangerous artisanal cobalt mines where they were not given sufficient protective gear and were exposed to poisonous dust, all for less than $2 per day, the report said, as The Guardian reported.
Cobalt is used to make batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage, and is also an important component of the permanent magnets that allow wind turbines to run at slower speeds while still producing energy.
The report noted that China’s Xinjiang region is where 40 to 45 percent of the polysilicon for use in the solar photovoltaic supply chain is sourced, and about 2.6 million Kazakh and Uyghur people have been interned, coerced and subjected to “re-education programs” there, reported The Guardian.
Earlier this year, the U.S. and Australian governments expressed the desire to end their almost total reliance on China for supply chains of critical minerals and renewable energy, pointing to evidence that about 80 percent of the manufacturing of solar energy technology comes from the country.
Aberle said that, in order to create a plan that makes certain the green energy supply chain in Australia was “reliable, cost effective and slavery free,” the government needed to put together a taskforce of representatives from industry, government and civil society, The Guardian reported.
“Urgent action is needed to address the severe modern slavery risks in Australian renewable energy supply chains and investments,” New South Wales Anti-slavery Commissioner Dr. James Cockayne said in response to the report, according to the press release. “This report is an important and welcome acknowledgment by industry of this problem and a first step towards addressing it. But we need to see industry, government, the financial sector and civil society working together to provide access to competitively costed, slavery-free renewable energy. If we don’t, modern slavery risks significantly complicating the just transition to a decarbonised economy.”