We care about people and the planet
REC is not just a globally-known solar panel manufacturer, but an employer of people in many different countries, all with the desire to change our dependence on fossil fuels, the drive to make the global energy transition a success, and the goal of empowering communities all over the world. This means our focus is not just on generating clean energy, but also on creating a product that is fair, just and does its best for our employees and customers.
While production efficiencies are key to panel prices, REC also pays great attention to the working conditions of its own employees and also those at our suppliers. For REC, this means there must be no exploitation of employees at any point along the supply chain, and our direct suppliers must ensure that their own suppliers abide by such rules as well, all the way back to the extraction of raw materials. This is to ensure that REC products are free from any activities that might compromise human rights, or which involve child labor, prison labor or forced labor.
To have such a stance is actually a serious undertaking, so to monitor this, REC carries out regular on-site audits of our suppliers which examine labor practices, working conditions and HSE management systems, as well as the observance of human rights standards, including in their supply chain. Of the 29 supplier audits carried out last year, no deviations from our high standards were revealed.
Focus on human rights
This attention to human factors is often not considered a key metric in the supply chain and so REC’S efforts here help to make it one of the most transparent panel manufacturers on the market – and this is increasingly proving a key criterion for customers investing in solar.
One such customer has been the New Zealand Parliament who decided they want to lead the country by example and took action to cut the carbon footprint of its buildings by installing solar and improving energy efficiency. A solar installation using REC panels was recently completed on the roof of Parliament House in Wellington – this is the grey stone neo-classical building next to the famous ‘Beehive’ in the center of New Zealand’s capital city. The installation has 561 panels to help lower its overall carbon footprint and saves the Kiwi taxpayer around NZ$31,000 a year in power and 22 tons of carbon annually.
In fact, REC was chosen as the panel manufacturer for this installation thanks to its openness and transparency in the supply chain. The avoidance of any human rights abuses throughout production was critical in the supplier selection for the New Zealand Parliament and the work carried out by REC with its suppliers means that REC has now been selected as the only panel supplier that can currently supply public buildings across New Zealand.
What convinced the New Zealand Parliament of REC’s transparency was a package of documentation where its thorough knowledge of supplier sources, all the way back up the supply chain, showed the New Zealand Parliament that they could be confident that there was no form of forced, penal, indentured or child labor inherent in the manufacturing of the panels on their roof.
Although only a few countries have passed laws to prohibit the use of products made with forced labor, others are seeing a significant rise in focus on this topic and it is becoming a major sales discussion due to customer-led initiatives and wanting to be sure of purchasing ‘clean’ products. Much as it was in New Zealand, where, with the passing of the Zero Carbon Bill in 2021, Parliament wanted to go a step further and make cuts in its own emissions, leading the nation by example as it targets zero emissions and a significant reduction its overall impact on the planet and all its inhabitants.
Can a manufacturer achieve full transparency?
REC undeniably faced problems in gaining full transparency in its supply chain as any allegations of forced labor are by nature political with some national governments regulating how its own companies respond to questioning on this subject. When faced with resistance to cooperate on ensuring a clean supply chain, REC needs to decide how to deal with that supplier and this kind of non-conformance would normally result in the company’s removal from the REC Approved Supplier List. After all, and even with the moralist put aside, if REC cannot be sure that there is no exploitation of employees at any point along the supply chain, then this is non-compliance with its Supplier Code of Conduct and a failure in the auditing process.
While most suppliers are willing to comply with REC’s supply agreements and ensure there is no use of forced labor in their products, some suppliers are unwilling to reveal their own upstream supply chain without a legal requirement to do so. This is an understandable business position but means that full transparency can only be gained when a product is stopped at customs and its origin must be proven before release. Of course, and especially in the case of polysilicon, this has to be done by tracing the materials back through the production batch to see the raw material mix. Nonetheless, even here REC has received sufficient guarantees from upstream suppliers that the polysilicon supplied to REC is free from any human rights abuses.
While ensuring that the solar supply chain avoids human rights abuses and is transparent to customers has become a major topic for the solar industry in recent years, it has not been easy for manufacturers to find a solution and marry different supplier interests given diverse political pressures around the world. By working closely with its suppliers and being clear about its intentions, REC has succeeded in creating a component documentation pack that sheds light on its suppliers for transparency back up the supply chain. The choice of REC by the New Zealand Parliament as the sole panel supplier for public buildings shows that this can already be considered a leading level of openness and surety against the use of forced labor and human rights abuses when investing in a solar installation.