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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the mission of the Solar Stewardship Initiative?

The Solar Stewardship Initiative works collaboratively with manufacturers, developers, installers and purchasers across the global solar value chain to foster responsible production, sourcing and stewardship of materials.

Our purpose is to:

  • Promote an energy transition that is just, inclusive, and respects human rights;
  • Establish mechanisms to create end-to-end supply-chain transparency, ensuring integrity in the global solar industry, and to establish a Chain of Custody system for product traceability;
  • Enable continuous improvement of ESG performance;
  • Prepare our community for relevant upcoming laws and regulations on responsible supply chains (such as the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, and ban on forced labour products);
  • Build the confidence of regulators, customers and business partners in the sustainability of the solar value chain.

Why is the Solar Stewardship Initiative necessary?

Right now, like many sectors, it is difficult to visualise all the links in the global solar supply chain. Comprehensive supply chain monitoring will make it possible to trace the origins of materials used in solar components. This will mean we know, with a high level of certainty, that EU & UK solar products comply with international ESG standards.

There are existing verification options, with a few examples of standards of corporate social responsibility and due diligence practices undertaken by some SSI members already, such as: Responsible Business Alliance Code of Conduct; United Nations Global Compact Principles; SA8000 social standard, NSF/ANSI 457-2019 Sustainability Leadership Standards for PV modules and inverters.

However, a comprehensive initiative dedicated to solar PV, combining all ESG requirements with product traceability does not exist yet, this is what the Solar Stewardship Initiative is working on.

Who is behind the Solar Stewardship Initiative?

Work to develop the SSI began in 2021 through co-operation between SolarPower Europe and Solar Energy UK. This translated into a statement of intent from 60+ buyers and suppliers of solar products in October 2022. The SSI formally opened for membership at the end of 2023, and as of Q1 2024 has around 40 members covering a major share of both demand and supply, with the number growing rapidly.

The SSI is still in a transition phase and is working to become a fully-fledged Multi-stakeholder Initiative by 2025. At this point, there will be a Board consisting of buyers and sellers of solar modules, as well as relevant non-industry stakeholders including civil society, academic, and financial institution representatives.

For now, under the SSI Transition Governance, the Board is drawn from the founding members of the SSI. Day to day work of the SSI is administered by the Secretariat.

You can find current SSI members here, and read more about SSI Governance here.

What is a Multi-stakeholder Initiative?

Multi-stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) are robust ESG assurance and certification schemes governed by balance of stakeholders including industry representatives and civil society who are independent of the relevant industry. MSIs typically rely on third-party, independent supply chain audits conducted against international and sector-specific ESG operating practice standards.

MSIs are founded on the principle of equal representation of all stakeholders in decision making, and transparent complaints mechanisms reinforcing the legitimacy and effectiveness of such initiatives. By uniting diverse stakeholders, including civil society, these initiatives create a broader, more inclusive platform for dialogue and action, leading to more comprehensive and sustainable solutions.

If you or your organisation are interested in joining the SSI as a civil society or other non-industry stakeholder, we invite you to get in touch.

Examples of successful MSIs include Fairtrade International, the Forest Stewardship Council, the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative, or the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance.

How does the SSI work?

From 2021, the founding organisations of the SSI developed a draft ESG standard based on international standards, input from supply chain sustainability experts, and recommendations from civil society, including human rights and environmental groups. This draft standard was tested through public consultation and a pilot phase and was published as the SSI ESG Standard in October 2023. The SSI ESG Standard effectively combines international standards (explore some here) with the technical specifics of the solar supply chain. You can read more about the development of the SSI ESG Standard here.

By the end of 2024, third-party independent auditors will be using the SSI ESG Standard and the SSI Assurance Process to evaluate solar manufacturing sites’ performance. Then, a site is awarded Bronze, Silver, or Gold. Sites not awarded Gold certification are given an improvement plan to achieve Gold at reassessment. Sites with major non-compliance, breaching human rights or using forced labour, will not be certified at any level.

The SSI Assurance Process is based on third-party audits that follow a rigorous methodology of unsupervised worker interviews, site walkthroughs, and documentation review. All these components are non-negotiable and are based on international standards of good auditing practice. Facilities or regions that cannot be freely accessed, and accordingly assessed, will not be able to achieve SSI certification.

How can my organisation join the Solar Stewardship Initiative?

We welcome supporters from across the length and breadth of the solar value chain, who share our commitment to drive a more responsible, transparent, and sustainable industry.

Please get in touch with us directly to explore how your organisation can be part of the process.

Who assesses site compliance with the SSI ESG Standards?

Assessment Bodies or Assessors who meet the usual international standards of independent auditing can be accepted to conduct SSI audits. Specific SSI requirements mean that Assessment Bodies or Assessors need to be accredited under the globally-recognised standards; ISO 17065 or 17021, with a relevant scope by an International Accreditation Forum (IAF) member accreditation body. Assessment teams are made up of assessors with the knowledge and competencies to cover all subject matters of the SSI Standard(s) and always include an assessor with social auditing experience.

How does site assessment and certification work?

Assessors visit a site and follow a rigorous methodology of verification, including unsupervised worker interviews, site walkthroughs, and documentation review.

Any major non-conformance means the site cannot qualify for any SSI certification. An example of major non-conformance would be evidence of forced labour conditions. Under SSI terms, this evidence could include the obvious, i.e. where workers can’t leave the work site freely. But also, the SSI Assurance procedure considers more subtle signals, such as cases where there is no clear due diligence of sub-contractors / employment agencies; in this instance the risk of exposure to forced labour is considered too great, and so the relevant site would not be certified by the SSI.

Minor non-conformance with the SSI ESG Standard is permitted to a certain extent, e.g. a partially obscured fire exit sign. Sites are awarded different grades, Bronze, Silver, and Gold – with Gold being the highest performance. On repeat assessment, if previously identified minor non-conformances have not been addressed, the issue is then rated a major non-conformance.

Will the SSI conduct audits in Xinjiang?

If Assessment Bodies cannot freely access a site, or region, then sites cannot be certified under the SSI, whether in Xinjiang or anywhere else in the world.

The SSI will not conduct assessments or certifications for sites in regions that are inaccessible to unsupervised visits. The SSI is a tool to reinforce and demonstrate the credibility of sites that are freely accessible and are committed to upholding robust ESG standards. There are sufficient accessible sites around the world for the SSI to build a certified network of solar suppliers.

Does the SSI evaluate all the links in the supply chain?

Not yet. In 2024, the SSI is working on its second Standard, the SSI Supply Chain Traceability Standard. This is set to take the SSI assurance scheme further. With the combination of the SSI ESG Standard and the SSI Supply Chain Traceability Standard, the SSI will be able to certify exactly how each link of the supply chain is connected, creating the so-called chain of custody.

As of Q1 2024, the Working Group on the SSI Traceability Standard has been set up, and we invite interested parties to explore membership. In accordance with ISEAL good practice, the SSI Traceability Standard will be subject to public consultation and piloting, like the SSI ESG Standard. The SSI aims to publish the Supply Chain Traceability Standard at the end of 2024.

Does the SSI replace supply chain sustainability laws or exempt companies from the application of such laws?

No, the SSI does not replace supply chain sustainability laws or exempt companies from the application of, or liability under, such laws. On the contrary, the SSI intends to support the effective implementation of relevant legislation.

Supply chains, and reinforcing their sustainability, can be complex – that’s why solutions have a number of components.

First is establishing clear legal market access standards. The European Union is currently developing two pieces of vital supply chain sustainability legislation – the Forced Labour Ban and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. These laws are based on OECD Guidance and UN Guiding Principles, which also form the foundation of the Solar Stewardship Initiative. Command from these laws is critical in driving industry to do their homework and giving businesses concrete directions on how to demonstrate compliance with European ESG values.

It is then businesses’ responsibility to ensure compliance with these laws, and regulators’ competency to enforce these rules. The SSI does not act as a replacement for these laws, nor does SSI membership negate a business’ liability to comply with law and perform its own environmental and human rights due diligence.

Multi-stakeholder Initiatives can support the intended impact of, and compliance with law. The EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive recognises the role of Multi-stakeholder initiatives in supporting businesses in fulfilling their obligations under the law.

Industry and civil society must work together to reinforce supply chain traceability and ESG standards, and this can be done through Multi-stakeholder Initiatives.

The SSI is aligned with and will continue to ensure its alignment with EU and relevant legislation. The SSI is committed to supporting the implementation of the legislation, by helping business understand their compliance needs and how to meet them. The SSI is working to provide guidance on due diligence requirements both to its members and the broader solar industry, including Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Beyond compliance with law and the non-negotiable respect for human rights, the SSI employs OECD Guidance on leveraging buyer pressure. Efforts like the SSI empower product buyers to join together to demonstrate demand for high performing ESG products, supporting a race to the top for ESG standards.

Does the SSI address reports of forced labour taking place in the solar supply chain?

Yes. The SSI does not certify sites complicit in forced labour. This is embedded in the SSI ESG Standard and Assurance Manual, and will be further reinforced by the forthcoming SSI Traceability Standard. By refusing to conduct assessments or certifications in sites or regions that are not freely accessible, the SSI contributes to the marginalisation of businesses who fail to uphold strong ESG standards.

You can find original statements from the founding organisations in 2021 unequivocally condemning the use of forced labour here: SolarPower Europe, Solar Energy UK.

Will the results of assessments be published for transparency reasons?

Yes, the different levels achieved by certified sites (Bronze, Silver, Gold) will be publicly available on our website. The summary of the results from audits will be summarised and posted on the SSI website. Sites found to be in breach of human rights or using forced labour, will not be certified at any level. There are incentives for sites to improve their level by reassessments that are planned yearly. Sites will be given a corrective action plan if they did not receive Gold level certification in the first year.

What if I suspect that an assessment or certification has been falsified?

Breaching SSI Assessment Procedure is not tolerated. If you have a complaint, we encourage you to follow the SSI Complaints and Appeals process to ensure a fair and thorough resolution. Your feedback is crucial in maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of the Solar Stewardship Initiative.

Complainants raising a complaint with the SSI need not disclose their identity if they choose to maintain their anonymity. Confidential concerns will be handled with utmost discretion, and disclosure will only occur if there is a legal or regulatory obligation to do so.

What is the validity of the SSI certificate?

The validity of an SSI certificate is three years. Re-certification takes place after three years, regardless of the level the site achieved. The SSI Assurance Manual provides for a surveillance and re-certification schedule depending on the level achieved.

Silver and Bronze-certified sites are provided with a corrective action plan, and a surveillance assessment takes place one year following certification to ensure the corrective action plan is being implemented with no possibility for grade change. Sites that achieve Silver or Bronze can request an optional reassessment after two years which may result in a grade change.

Does SSI membership mean that SSI members are certified under the SSI Standards?

SSI membership does not automatically mean that a member is SSI certified. Being an SSI member means that a company has signed the SSI Principles, therefore committing to apply the SSI ESG Standard in its operations and encourage its adoption along its supply chain. Admission to SSI membership, by the SSI Board, takes into account the result of a preliminary due diligence check performed by the SSI Secretariat, as described in the SSI Policy of Association. The preliminary due diligence check is not a formal certification and does not replace the certification against the SSI Standards. It is intended to assess whether the applicant company is applying in good faith, with the expectation that they are seeking to improve their supply chain traceability, and independently certify that their sites meet the SSI Standards.

When a company, which is a manufacturer, joins the SSI as a member, it commits to complete an assessment against the SSI Standard for at least two of its production sites within 12 months. The first results of SSI ESG assessments are expected in Q1-Q2 2025, and the list of SSI-certified production sites will be published on a dedicated page on the SSI website.

What is the importance of independent third-party assessments?

The SSI assurance scheme is based on on-site, independent third-party assessments. These are more robust and credible than voluntary disclosures and self-assessments because they assess compliance to standard requirements in an impartial manner. Third-party assessments play a crucial role in enhancing consumer trust by providing independent validation. Qualified and impartial assessors review policies, procedures and practices at a specific site to determine if they are implemented and effective. Interviews with stakeholders and workers also take place and any information received is cross-checked to support assessment conclusions and obtain an accurate picture of the site’s practices. Any gaps identified must be addressed by a fixed deadline and regular surveillance assessments take place to verify that the site continues to be in compliance with the requirements in the Standard.

Can a company exclusively rely on the SSI to fulfil its due diligence obligations?

No. There is no certification or standard that can substitute a company’s own environmental and human rights due diligence required by the UN Guiding Principles, OECD Guidelines, and EU and national law.

However, SSI members can rely on the SSI for continuous guidance and support in performing their duties and once available, on the data stemming from SSI assessments.

What requirements do the SSI Assessment Bodies have to fulfil?

The SSI will only approve and work with Assessment Bodies (ABs) which qualify against certain requirements as well as individual Assessors who meet set competency criteria. In line with other voluntary sustainability standards (VSS), Assessment Bodies must be registered legal entities that are either accredited or comply with ISO 17065 or 17021. The SSI will also approve each individual assessor of the ABs based on a list of competency criteria such as length of auditing experience, field-based experience, membership of professional auditing bodies, specific social and environmental experience as well as experience of the solar value chain. The SSI will additionally carry out regular oversight assessments of the ABs, such as witnessing an SSI assessment, for quality control purposes and to ensure that Standards are being upheld. Audits are conducted by a team of auditors each specialised in a specific domain. The team must always have a labour/social specialist. The Lead Assessor is required to be a specialist in at least two of the 3 areas covered by the SSI ESG Standard.More details can be found in the SSI Assessement Body and Assessor Approval Procedure.

What share of the supply chain and how many sites are assured by the SSI?

When joining the SSI, each member commits to applying the SSI Standards within its entire operations and encouraging their adoption along its supply chain. For year 2024, the first year the SSI is in operation, when a company, which is a manufacturer, joins the SSI as a member, it commits to submit at least two of its production sites for assessment against the SSI Standards within 12 months. The SSI Board is currently discussing ambitious certification targets for supply chain penetration and market coverage for the following years.

Does the SSI offer guidance on how to handle state-imposed forced labour?

It is the role of governments to set law that establishes the consequences of breaching international standards of human rights by companies and/or third countries. Accordingly, the EU has set two important pieces of legislation, the EU Forced Labour Ban and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD).

In addition, the European Commission has provided the following guidance to help companies to combat forced labour in supply chains

The SSI is designed to support companies to fulfil their obligations under EU and relevant supply chain sustainability legislation and thereby contribute to the implementation of such legislation.