‘The Energy of Freedom’? Solar energy, modern slavery, and the just transition

by James Cockayne, Edgar Rodríguez Huerta and Oana Burcu

The British Academy
Number of pages

Solar energy is crucial to decarbonization. But there's growing evidence solar energy value-chains are gravely tainted by modern slavery. 70% of global cobalt supply, crucial to solar and electric vehicle (EV) batteries, comes from DRC, where it's often mined by forced and 40% of solar panels come from Xinjiang, where forced labour is ubiquitous. With solar energy demand projected to grow by 450% by 2030, increased enslavement risks becoming the unintended price of decarbonization. This complicates the ‘justice’ of this transition. New anti-slavery legislative and reporting measures in the UK, US and EU are simultaneously beginning to disrupt solar energy value-chains, potentially slowing decarbonization. Yet these risks, and those vulnerable to them, are largely absent from Just Transition planning by legislators, industry and investors. This project will address that gap by developing evidence-based options for equitable management of modern slavery risks across solar energy value-chains while catalyzing uptake through stakeholder dialogue.

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