Kerry Admits Slave Labor Fuels China's Green Energy Supply Chain

John Kerry
Climate envoy John Kerry / Getty Images
May 12, 2021

Biden administration climate envoy John Kerry admitted before Congress on Wednesday that slave labor plagues the globe's green energy supply chain, potentially complicating the administration's efforts to source materials from top human rights abusers like China.

During testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry was pressed on his recent comments suggesting that China's ongoing genocide against the ethnic Uyghur minority should not "get in the way" of a climate deal. Some 80 percent of the world's solar panels are produced in China, and the United States has determined that at least a portion are made by Uyghur slave laborers in the country's Xinjiang province. Asked about the issue, Kerry was forced to publicly acknowledge that slave labor fuels the green energy market.

"You're absolutely correct. … It is a problem," Kerry said in response to questions from Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the committee's lead Republican. "Xinjiang province … produces some solar panels that we believe, in some cases, are being produced with forced labor by Uyghurs."

Kerry, however, declined several opportunities to describe China's behavior as a genocide, as the Trump administration did shortly before leaving office. He did not answer questions about steps the Biden administration is taking to ensure green energy supply chains are not marred by slave labor or about reports that he shared secret information with Iran. Four Republican senators are urging Congress to hold off on funding Kerry's climate envoy office until he answers questions about his Iran dealings.

Kerry's admission is likely to complicate his efforts to force America into inking a climate deal with China. Republicans and many human rights advocates fiercely oppose Kerry's efforts, saying there should be no deal with Beijing until its ends its genocide on the Uyghurs. Kerry has yet to explain how his climate deal would avoid exacerbating Beijing's human rights abuses.

"We cannot sign any climate agreement with the [Chinese Communist Party] that would perpetuate or is built on the backs of slave labor," McCaul said in a statement following Kerry's remarks.

Kerry also said during his testimony that the Biden administration is assessing sanctions on China's solar-panel production and mining of rare earth minerals, which are used in the panels and most advanced electronics.