- A whitepaper by CEC and Norton Rose Fulbright reflects on the role Australian clean energy industry can play in helping curb modern slavery practices
- As renewable energy demand grows, Australia can develop its own manufacturing capabilities with better labor standards and clear supply chain
- It will also exert a greater influence as a dominant end user for various raw materials, and can use this position to create a better culture in the space
Australia would stand to benefit significantly from vertical integration in domestic production of clean energy raw materials and finished products, to not only reduce its reliance on foreign supply chains, but also help eliminate modern slavery, reads a whitepaper by Norton Rose Fulbright and Clean Energy Council (CEC).
“The paper aims to raise awareness of modern slavery across the clean energy industry and creates a clear starting point from which we can develop effective strategies and actions to eliminate modern slavery from clean energy supply chains,” stated Norton Rose Fulbright Partner, Disputes, Ethical Business: Anti-Corruption and Human Rights, Abigail McGregor.
Titled Addressing Modern Slavery in the Clean Energy Sector, points at the long and complex supply chains in renewable energy that during the production and distribution process are increasingly being linked to modern slavery, which the clean energy industry needs to take seriously.
Australia is a growing renewables market that’s forecast to grow to over 200 GW of large-scale wind, solar, hydro and rooftop solar projects by 2050 from around 40 GW in 2022. The small-scale solar sector is a big contributor with more than 3.3 GW of new capacity in 2021, the country has the highest per capital solar installation rate in the world, and almost a third of its homes have rooftop solar systems.
By 2050, the country is estimated to increase the cumulative capacity of distributed energy, mostly rooftop solar, from 15 GW now to around 69 GW, while large-scale solar and wind projects will account for around 141 GW, up from 15 GW now. This will also require significant growth in energy storage.
Notably, the US government has banned products coming from Xinjiang region of China, including polysilicon to enter its shores alleging human rights abuse and forced labor practices there (see UFLPA Comes Into Force In The US). Since Xinjiang produced polysilicon accounts for almost 45% of the global supply for solar industry, Australia is also at risk of forced labor entering into its supply chains, point out the analysts.
In the absence of any full-fledged local manufacturing locally, Australia will need massive amount of renewable energy equipment to meet these envisioned targets which it will have to source from outside the country from companies whose supply chain may be tainted by any of the modern slavery forms, as child labor, forced labor, human trafficking, debt bondage, forced marriage and deceptive recruiting, among others.
Current available evidence linking modern slavery to clean energy supply chains including solar covers the manufacture of components and raw material extraction, as polysilicon, or copper for which renewable energy is one of the end users.
“For some raw materials, such as cobalt and nickel, renewable energy currently consumes only a small fraction of global output, but the accelerating energy transition will make renewable energy a dominant end user over the coming decades. This creates the potential for the clean energy sector to wield greater influence over the integrity of these supply chains,” reads the report.
Developing domestic manufacturing capabilities with better labor standards and clean enforcement rules is one way Australia can contribute to help avoid causing or contributing to modern slavery.
The report writers stress that the clean energy industry can play a critical role in creating a culture of awareness, conduct supplier due diligence, use its influence to drive change, understand and develop remediation frameworks for adverse human rights impacts, and collaborate with government and non-government agencies to work towards solutions, to lower the risk of modern slavery occurrences.
It stresses, “Different technologies have different points of exposure, from manufacturing of key components to the extraction of critical raw materials. This is an inherently global problem, but Australia and the Australian renewable energy industry must play its part. By addressing Australia’s supply chains, we can contribute to influencing global supply chains.”
The whitepaper can be downloaded for free on CEC’s website.