08 April 2019, The Tablet

More than 900 cases of modern slavery recorded through Safe Car Wash app

There were 2271 completed entries using the app with 41 per cent being told there was a likelihood of modern slavery at the hand car wash

More than 900 cases of modern slavery recorded through Safe Car Wash app

Image issued by the Clewer Initiative of the Safe Car Wash app
The Clewer Initiative/PA Archive/PA Images

More than 900 reports of modern slavery in hand car washes have been recorded over a five month period via an app launched by the Catholic Church in England and Wales and the Church of England.

The “Safe Car Wash” app, launched last June by The Clewer Initiative, the Church of England’s campaign against modern slavery, and the Santa Marta Group, the Catholic Church’s anti-slavery project, allows drivers to respond to a check list of key factors that may suggest modern slavery or labour exploitation in hand car washes.

The app has been downloaded 8,225 times and, between June and December 2018, there were 2271 completed entries using the app, with 41 per cent, or 930 reports, where users were told there was a likelihood of modern slavery at the hand car wash. Users were then asked to call the Modern Slavery Helpline and their findings were shared in real time with police and the Gangmasters’ and Labour Abuse Authority.

According to analysis by the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, nearly half of the reports, 48 per cent, said that workers did not have suitable access to protective clothing, such as gloves and boots. As many as 80 per cent reported a cash-only policy, while 17 per cent reported workers looking fearful. Children were reported to be working on the site by eight per cent.

The app also asked drivers to look out for nearby caravans, containers, mattresses and bedding as evidence of workers living on site. A total of 14 per cent of reports suggested that workers were living on the car wash site.

Bishop Patrick Lynch, from the Santa Marta Group, said: “In the last decade the UK has seen a huge growth in the number of hand car washes operating across the country. Since their appearance law enforcement agencies and others working to stop modern slavery have had significant concerns that people working within them are being exploited and possibly trafficked. The Safe Car Wash App allows customers using the car washes to report their concerns about what they see, which in turn helps agencies, including the Police and Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority to build a clearer picture of what is actually going on and where necessary take action to protect and rescue the vulnerable. It is encouraging to see that so many people are now using The Safe Car Wash App, which has shown itself to be a valuable and practical way for concerned members of the community to help eradicate modern slavery from the streets of the UK. However, there is no room for complacency and we all need to increase our efforts to tackle slavery in the UK ”

Bishop Alastair Redfern, Chair of The Clewer Initiative, said: “This research from the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab shows that the Safe Car Wash app has made an excellent start towards mapping the extent of modern slavery and labour exploitation in hand car washes, and, crucially raising public awareness of this issue.

“Sadly, the findings so far confirm what we already feared - that many car washes do not protect their workers.

“Our conversations with colleagues from law enforcement suggest that the data from the Safe Car Wash app is providing another piece in the puzzle of how to combat this complex crime. We hope to continue to build on this progress.”

The Home Office estimates there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of human slavery in the UK.

The Safe Car Wash app lists the following questions as indicators of potential modern slavery:

Do the workers have access to suitable protective clothing? Look out for gloves and boots.  

Is there evidence of workers living on site? Can you see a caravan or mattresses and bedding? 

Does anyone appear controlling or intimidating?  

Does the body language of the workers appear withdrawn or fearful?  

Do there appear to be minors working at the car wash?  

Did you pay less than £6.70 for the car wash?  

Does the car wash only accept cash?  

Did they offer a receipt?  

Did you have to pay the manager?  

The app can be downloaded here.


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