Top US solar panel maker First Solar on Tuesday (Aug 15) said an audit of its manufacturing operations had uncovered unethical labour practices at its Malaysian factory, sending the company’s shares down about 5%.
The revelation is the latest to tie the fast-growing solar energy industry to concerns about forced labour. First Solar has largely evaded that scrutiny because its panels do not contain polysilicon, a raw material primarily produced in China’s Xinjiang region. A new US law presumes that all goods from Xinjiang are made with forced labour.
In a corporate sustainability report, First Solar said four on-site service providers in Malaysia had subjected migrant workers to unethical recruitment practices, including “the payment of recruitment fees in their home countries, passport retention, and the unlawful retention of wages”.
First Solar said it had taken steps to return passports, wages and recruitment fees to the affected workers.
The Tempe, Arizona, company said it encouraged other solar manufacturers to undertake similar audits.
“The solar industry must hold itself to a higher standard,” the report said. “Quite simply, our industry’s work to power the energy transition and enable the fight against climate change does not serve as credits to offset its social and human rights obligations.”
First Solar also produces panels in the US and Vietnam, and is planning to open a factory in India.
The company’s shares were down 4.9% in afternoon trade at US$201 (RM932.94), Reuters reported.