US-headquartered solar photovoltaics (PV) manufacturer, First Solar, has revealed incidents of unlawful forced labour practices at its Malaysian plant.
In a recent sustainability report for 2023, the firm said, “The report found that the four onsite service providers in Malaysia employed foreign migrant workers who were subjected to unethical recruitment including the payment of recruitment fees in their home countries, passport retention and unlawful retention of wages.” “As a result of the findings and our corrective actions, the service providers have since returned all passports and unlawfully retained wages to the workers, and we have updated our site service agreements to prevent any recurrence of the issue.”
It added, “Furthermore, after developing a reimbursement plan with a third party, we are now working with our onsite service providers to ensure the recruitment fees are reimbursed to their current and former employees,” the company disclosed in its 78-page report.
This has risen concerns about forced labour in the fast rising solar sector. The report has also disclosed the abuses of labour practice prevalent in Malaysia, with a number of corporations taken to task by the US authorities.
With its headquarters in Tempe, Arizona, First Solar has regional offices globally and manufacturing facilities in Perrysburg and Lake Township, Ohio, Kulim, Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
First Solar Malaysia started its operation in 2008 and is the largest high-technology manufacturing site for First Solar’s advanced thin film PV modules.
As per reports, construction is underway for the Kulim Module Assembly facility where the next generation of First Solar’s modules will be built. The 65ha Kulim site employs over 4,000 local associates from the region.
In the audit report released today, First Solar said, “While the solar industry continues to come under intense scrutiny due to the crystalline silicon supply chain’s exposure to forced labour in Xinjiang, it has “doubled down” on its commitment to responsible solar, with a particular emphasis on zero tolerance for forced labour.”
“We are already starting to see the results. While our manufacturing facilities in the US and Vietnam achieved platinum status, the highest possible validated assessment programme rating, the audits also uncovered the fact that four service providers at our Malaysia facility fell short of our standards,” it said.
The report added, “We highlight this information openly, not only because of our commitment to transparency and ‘Responsible Solar’, but also to raise awareness of modern slavery risks that hide in plain sight and to illustrate the value of an independent third-party social audit conducted in a credible, comprehensive manner.
First Solar said, “ It believed to be the first among the world’s largest solar manufacturers to have conducted third-party social audits across its operational global manufacturing footprint. “