Biden's Energy Department Counts Chinese Solar Industry Rep as Diversity 'Ambassador'

Abigail Hopper's trade association includes Chinese solar companies tied to slave labor

(Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
June 8, 2023

President Joe Biden's Energy Department counts as a diversity "ambassador" the head of a trade group that represents Chinese solar companies, including one that allegedly accepted slave laborers from the communist nation's government.

The Energy Department on its website lists Solar Energy Industries Association president and CEO Abby Hopper as one of its "Equity in Energy" ambassadors. The initiative, hosted under the department's "economic impact and diversity" office, "is designed to expand the inclusion and participation of individuals in underserved communities, such as minorities, women, veterans, and formerly incarcerated persons, in all the programs of the Department of Energy."

Hopper's association, however, includes members that are not exactly known for celebrating minorities. China's top solar companies, including JinkoSolar, are Solar Energy Industries Association members. Consulting firm Horizon Advisory last year identified JinkoSolar as one of many Chinese solar giants that appear to have partnered with the communist nation's government to receive slave laborers in Xinjiang, where more than one million Uyghur Muslims are held in concentration camps. JinkoSolar, in one case, received state subsidies for employing dozens of what the Chinese government called "poor workers in southern Xinjiang," according to the report.

The association has distanced itself from its members' work in Xinjiang by citing its "Solar Industry Forced Labor Prevention Pledge," which calls on signatories to "commit to helping ensure that the solar supply chain is free of forced labor." JinkoSolar  signed the pledge by February 2021, despite its Xinjiang subsidiary allegedly using forced labor. Still, the company remains a Solar Energy Industries Association member and is listed on the association's most recent forced labor prevention pledge.

Daniel Turner, founder and executive director of energy advocacy group Power the Future, hammered Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm for Hopper's status as a department ambassador.

"I would assume the main reason why Granholm is okay with that is because it's not her family that's locked in a prison camp making solar panels for 20 hours a day," Turner told the Washington Free Beacon. "Instead, the Biden administration is the beneficiary of it. Whether it's China or cobalt mines in sub-Saharan Africa, they need it for solar and electric vehicles."

The Energy Department did not return a request for comment. Solar Energy Industries Association senior communications director Jen Bristol told the Free Beacon that Hopper's status as a Biden administration ambassador "has absolutely nothing to do" with the group's work for Chinese companies, even though the Energy Department's "Equity in Energy" site says Hopper "oversees all of SEIA's activities." Bristol went on to tout the association's work "in the environmental justice space" to make workplaces "more inclusive" and distance itself from the group's Chinese partners.

"SEIA represents the American solar and storage industry and American companies and workers, full stop," Bristol said. "To suggest otherwise is a gross misrepresentation of SEIA's work." Bristol's statement omits the fact that the association represents the U.S. subsidiaries of China's top solar producers, and those companies are forthcoming about their Chinese status—even on their American websites.

JinkoSolar, for example, boasts of its inclusion on the Forbes 2023 "Top 50 Sustainable Companies in China" list. Another association member, LONGi Solar, lists its revenue in Chinese yuan and notes the company "is named after the former president of Lanzhou University." A third member, Trina Solar, touts its status as "one of the first PV enterprises in China" that "reached a new milestone in 2020 when it was listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange."

In addition to its decision to continue representing Chinese entities operating in Xinjiang, the Solar Energy Industries Association has aggressively lobbied against U.S. tariffs targeting Chinese solar companies that violate American trade rules.

Earlier this month, Hopper scrambled to oppose tariffs on Chinese solar companies operating out of Southeast Asia, a move those companies hoped would allow them to circumvent Obama-era duties levied on China for providing illegal subsidies to its solar industry. While Biden's Commerce Department identified Trina Solar as one of the Chinese companies guilty of illegally circumventing U.S. tariffs, Hopper argued that the Solar Energy Industries Association member should not face penalties, which she said would decimate the American solar market.

"The United States cannot produce enough solar panels and cells to meet demand," Hopper admitted in a statement.

Thankfully for Hopper's association, Biden went on to veto a bipartisan measure to restore tariffs on Trina Solar and other Chinese companies, a decision Hopper said "protects America's clean energy economy." Hopper, however, did not disclose in that comment the association's work advocating on behalf of Trina Solar and other Chinese solar companies.

The Solar Energy Industries Association did not return questions on whether it has considered cutting ties with its Chinese partners. Bristol told the Free Beacon the group has been "crystal clear that forced labor has zero place in the solar supply chain."

"SEIA has been vigorously fighting against forced labor practices in the solar supply chain since reports first surfaced," Bristol said.