Hand car wash businesses are to be investigated over concerns workers are being abused and enslaved, with unregulated sites appearing up and down the country.
A committee of lawmakers said today that the probe will examine how many of Britain’s estimated 20,000 hand car washes have exploited or trafficked workers.
Thousands of workers in Britain’s car washes are believed to be slaves – primarily men lured from Eastern Europe then trapped in debt bondage, forced to work in unsafe conditions, stripped of documents and subjected to threats, abuse and violence.
Car wash clampdown: The Government will investigate hand car wash business due to growing fears of a slavery epidemic
Police estimate that tens of thousands of people in Britain are victims of modern slavery.
The country’s anti-slavery agency and chief sounded concerns last year that hand car washes in the UK were becoming a hotbed for illegal forced labour.
Offering to clean your car for as little as £5, hand car washes significantly undercut automated services and are becoming a common sight.
Speaking on Tuesday, Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: ‘We are concerned about the cost to the public purse of tackling criminality (at hand car washes), including trafficking, tax evasion and enforcement of minimum wage law.
‘(Our inquiry) will ask the government how it is meeting its commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals to reduce human exploitation.’
She also said an investigation will also look into the environmental impact of hand car washes.
Britain is regarded as an international leader in the fight against modern slavery, having passed a landmark law in 2015 just months before the United Nations adopted a global development goal of ending forced labour and slavery by 2030.
While forced labour is known to be rife among Britain’s building sites, nail bars, factories and farms, car washes are the latest sector where law makers fear slavery is growing with unregulated businesses sprouting up nationwide.
Police are ramping up investigations but say the crime is tough to crack with thousands of car washes believed to be flouting laws, most victims too scared to speak out and cash-squeezed Britons hunting for ever cheaper services.
There are believed to be around 20,000 hand car wash sites up and down the country, with around 5% of these observing regulatory requirements
Dawn Frazer, of the Car Wash Advisory Service said last year that only 1,000 hand car-wash businesses observe any regulatory requirements and that many staff are paid below the minimum wage, usually cash in hand.
‘They do not know what their rights are,’ she says.
‘Very often you will find out in some way or another that they are a victim; these are the types of jobs they can actually get. There is an awful lot of organised crime -trafficking and abuse of staff.’
Car washes accounted for the most forced labour cases referred to Britain’s modern slavery helpline last year, according to charity Unseen.
They make up around a quarter of 700 cases that were reported in 2017.
‘There has been a rise in awareness – more members of the public are taking note and taking action,’ Justine Currell, executive director of Unseen, which runs the hotline, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
‘Consumers can bring about change.’
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